The State Patrol says four organized rallies against budget cuts at the state Capitol last week cost the agency about $50,000 in overtime for extra security staffing, and there is evidence police thought protests were escalating and close to getting out of hand.
Last Thursday, state troopers arrested 17 people outside the governor’s office, mostly home care workers cited for disorderly conduct, and one man for an alleged felony assault on two officers. A larger rally drew 7,000 on Friday but had no incidents – although eight troopers lined up in front of the governor’s office lobby’s locked doors at one point in the afternoon.
But on Saturday, troopers grew alarmed after seeing lingering protesters with gas masks. On Saturday evening, the patrol and the Department of General Administration went quietly to court to get an emergency order to bar protesters from staying overnight in the Capitol, where they had camped out the previous three nights.
“It is my belief as a law enforcement officer that the situation is escalating from a safety and security perspective,” Patrol Chief John Batiste said in his written declaration to the court. Batiste went on to list incidents of graffiti, threats to break glass doors, the opening of windows to let fellow protesters into the locked building and “carrying gas masks for undetermined reasons.”
The order was filed at 9:26 p.m. and signed by Thurston Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor – just about the time state troopers were carrying the nine protesters out of the Legislative Building. The protesters had peacefully refused to leave the building and were given warning tickets that bar them from the Capitol Campus for 30 days.
Tabor’s order said that for 14 days – through April 23 – no one who is not a state employee or legislator may stay overnight inside the Capitol or take sleeping bags, blankets or pillows into the facility, which holds the chambers of the state House and Senate.
“In the interest of the safety of the legislators, citizens and others it is time to stop the protesters from overnight stays in the Capitol,” Batiste wrote.
Danielle Beagle, one of the nine evicted protesters, disputed Batiste’s security claims.
“I want to say off the bat that claim is outrageous,” Beagle, an Evergreen State College student from Tacoma, said Wednesday. “We were being 100 percent peaceful. There is no way anything was going to escalate into violence.”
Beagle said she was part of a group protesting against tax breaks for corporations, budget cuts and higher college tuition. She said her group was not affiliated with the Service Employees International Union 775 activists arrested Thursday for allegedly trying to storm the governor’s office.
Taxpayer costs are still being tallied for the rallies that ran from Tuesday to Friday and the Capitol sleep-ins that began Wednesday night and ended with Saturday’s evictions.
State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said the $50,000 figure was an early estimate and that other troopers were reassigned from other jobs – which took some off patrolling roads, their primary duty. Batiste’s statement said six to 12 troopers were needed inside and outside the Capitol each night that 30 to 65 protesters were camped out.
General Administration also has estimated at least $10,000 in additional costs related to overnight protests.
The four rallies included one labor-backed event Friday that drew 7,000 participants. All had a similar theme: Close tax breaks for special interests and spend more on health care and education.
Neither Valandra nor Calkins thought they needed a court order to carry out the evictions several hours after lawmakers had adjourned for the weekend.
“We didn’t actually use that (order). We talked to them,” Calkins said of the nine cited protesters, adding that the order simply clarified the state’s legal standing to force people out.
“It’s a good check for us to make sure we are on solid legal ground, even if we don’t display it to anyone else.”
Calkins said unattended bags caused troopers concern but “more worrisome” was seeing protesters earlier on Saturday with gas masks. “We had no intention and we certainly had no thought the situation would go where we had to gas anybody,” Calkins said. “So that reflects their intent and not ours.”
He conceded protesters with gas masks might have left before the evictions began.
Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim said his deputies in District Court are still sorting out disorderly conduct allegations against 16 home care workers arrested at the Capitol. But he said one felony assault charge was filed this week against Louis Gonzales, who the State Patrol said is 56 and from Walla Walla. Tunheim said arraignment would occur within 14 days.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 ww.theolympian.com/politicsblog