Jury selection is underway for the trial of four Palm Desert residents each facing a misdemeanor charge in connection with Occupy Coachella Valley protests in Palm Desert last fall.
Jack Lee Noftsger, Mary Elizabeth Walker, Dustin David Powell and
Stephen Mark Finger were arrested Nov. 1 on suspicion of camping illegally in
The defendants, free on their own recognizance, each are charged with
one count of unlawful assembly.
The case was sent to Riverside last week because there weren't
courtrooms available in Indio, according to Roger Tansey, the attorney for
Walker and Powell. Jury selection is expected to be completed Tuesday, followed
later in the day by opening statements, Tansey said.
Co-defendant Ryan Donald Cartwright of Palm Springs pleaded guilty last
month to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace and was sentenced to
three years probation and 40 hours of community service. Gale Wheat of
Indio, who was also arrested in connection with the protest, pleaded guilty in
February to an infraction for staying in the park past curfew and was fined
Members of the group had been in Civic Center Park since Oct. 24,
participating in the nationwide Occupy movement, intended to draw attention to
what demonstrators said was the growing gap between rich and poor.
The defendants were arrested by deputies sent to the park to enforce the
11 p.m. curfew on Nov. 1, sheriff's Lt. Andrew Shouse said.
The group was granted temporary use permits by the city over four days
in the last week of October, which allowed them to stay overnight in the park.
The city declined to issue another permit at the end of the week, and sheriff's
deputies asked the protesters to leave.
"Most of the subjects relocated to the sidewalk upon our arrival,''
Shouse said then. "Seven subjects remained on the park property and were
arrested.'' Two more people were arrested an hour later after they entered the park "in defiance of officers who were securing the scene,'' Shouse said. Another woman was arrested later that night, he said.
City Attorney Robert Hargreaves previously said the city supported the
group's First Amendment rights, but could not allow the park to be used as a
campground for an extended period of time.
"By providing Occupy Coachella Valley with a highly visible, dry,
shaded space with 24-hour access to restrooms, the city accommodated the
group's First Amendment rights while protecting public health and safety and
the rights of our residents and visitors to continue using Civic Center Park,''
according to a city statement.