Former U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jayel Aheram served in Iraq and Southeast Asia to protect the freedoms of Americans.
Aheram, who was honorably discharged in early 2010, was on Nov. 1 during a police crackdown at a week-long encampment at Palm Desert's Civic Center Park as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The 27 year old, who also goes by the name Jack Lee Noftsger, told Patch in a jailhouse interview on Wednesday that he believes there is something wrong with a system that punishes him for exercising his first amendment rights.
"I've been abroad to defend freedom and liberty in foreign countires. When I'm here exercising that freedom and liberty, I'm arrested, shackled and chained and treated like a common criminal," Aheram said, wearing an orange jump suit.
The College of the Desert student was sleeping at the park's western entrance off San Pablo Avenue when two dozen officers emerged from the darkness and arrested nine protesters who were in the park after its 11 p.m. curfew.
The city of Palm Desert had issued the group a permit for four nights to stay in the park, but refused to grant anymore after Friday. The protesters remained in the park all weekend in violation of the curfew and the city's camping ordinance.
"They ambushed us. It was a raid. It was a late night raid," Aheram said.
He said that he does not blame police for their actions, but holds the city of Palm Desert responsible for putting a city ordinance above the first amendment rights of the Occupy Coachella Valley movement.
"The city's attempt to quash this movement has made this movement stronger," Aheram said, adding that he plans to still be involved in protests after he is released.
He said he was not released like the nine others arrested since Tuesday because he refused to sign a citation from the sheriff's department, which contracts with Palm Desert for its policing services.
"I'm merely exercising my first amendment right. The city put a responsible citizen in jail for exercising his first amendment right," said Aheram, who was released from custody later in the day Wednesday.
The Riverside County District Attorney's Office has not received the case from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department for review, according to D.A. spokesman John Hall.
Assistant City Attorney Robert Hargreaves has said the city supports the group's First Amendment rights, but cannot allow the park to be used as a campground for an extended period of time. The protesters are allowed to use the park from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily like the rest of the public, Hargreaves said.