Jury selection is expected to start Monday in Riverside for the trial of four people facing a misdemeanor charge in connection with Occupy Coachella Valley protests in Palm Desert last fall, an attorney for two of the defendants said today.
Jack Lee Noftsger, Mary Elizabeth Walker, Dustin David Powell and Stephen Mark Finger, all of Palm Desert, were arrested Nov. 1 on suspicion of camping illegally in Palm Desert's Civic Center Park as part of the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement.
The defendants, free on their own recognizance, each are charged with
one count of unlawful assembly.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles E. Stafford set a Monday
trial date at a hearing today at Indio's Larson Justice Center in Indio. The
case was sent to Riverside because there weren't courtrooms available in Indio,
according to Roger Tansey, Walker's and Powell's attorney. The trial is expected to last about a week.
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 ordered
to pay a $125 fine.
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 say is 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 supports 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.