SC governor reaches settlement with Occupy Columbia protestors

nophillips@thestate.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Occupy Columbia protestors are arrested by S.C. Bureau of Protective Services officers on the South Carilna State House grounds for refusing to remove themselves from the public grounds.

C. ALUKA BERRY — Buy Photo

— The state of South Carolina will pay $192,000 to 14 Occupy Columbia protestors after they reached a settlement in a 2011 lawsuit against Gov. Nikki Haley and state police.

The settlement was reached Wednesday after nearly eight hours of negotiations in federal court, said Walid Hakim, a Lexington resident who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“For me, this was never about the money,” Hakim said. “This was about doing the right thing. Our first and fourth amendment rights were violated and the courts sided with us over and over again.”

The Occupy protestors filed the lawsuit saying their civil rights had been violated when they were arrested for peacefully protesting Nov. 16, 2011 on the State House grounds.

Nineteen Occupy Columbia protesters refused Haley’s orders to leave and were arrested in a driving rainstorm by S.C. Bureau of Protective Services officers. The charges later were dropped.

Monday, a Haley spokesman said the governor did not support the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund’s decision to settle the lawsuit. The fund provides tort liability insurance to governmental entities.

“Governor Haley made the right call to stop a group of people’s attempt to live on the State House grounds and use our flower beds as a toilet – they presented a clear danger to public health and safety,” Doug Mayer wrote in an e-mail to The State.

At the time of the arrests, the Occupy protestors had been camping on the State House grounds for a month to protest everything from corporate influence on Wall Street to a proposed Walmart along Assembly Street.

Haley grew impatient with their continued presence. The governor accused the protestors of destroying State House property and said the protest was costing taxpayers money in overtime paid to police. She ordered the protestors to end their 24-hour vigil by packing up their tents and tarps. They could return during daylight hours, the governor said.

At the time, the state did not have rules banning anyone from living on State House grounds. It was that lack of rules that led courts to side with protestors.

Haley and public safety department officials had asked the courts to protect them from civil legal penalties, saying they were carrying out official duties.

Late last year, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., said the governor and officers could be sued.

The Occupy Columbia movement considered Wednesday’s settlement a victory for free speech and for constitutional protection against unwarranted arrests, Hakim said.

Often, financial settlements in civil suits are sealed. But the Occupy settlement revealed the amount that will be split between the 14 protestors who sued and their three attorneys, Andrew Radeker, Robert Butcher and Mark Schnee.

“I hope future leaders of our state realize we have protections in place for a reason,” Hakim said. “They don’t have to agree with us but they have to protect our right to say it.”

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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