Gov. Bill Haslam and two of his top commissioners are refusing to talk on the record with lawyers about how they decided to arrest Occupy Nashville protesters camped on War Memorial Plaza in 2011.
In response to a motion by Attorney General Robert Cooper to spare the high-ranking officials from depositions, lawyers representing the protesters are urging a judge to force the trio to share details only they know about deciding on curfew rules that led troopers to make 54 arrests at an Occupy Nashville protest in two midnight police raids.
“The Governor and the Commissioner should not be permitted to make statements freely to the press about their personal knowledge and involvement when it suits their public relations strategy, but in the next breath hide from deposition by claiming high ranking official immunity when they are sued for those very same actions,” read the motion filed by three local ACLU of Tennessee cooperating attorneys who filed the lawsuit for Occupy Nashville. “To do so would be patently unfair.”
Attorneys had originally planned to depose the governor, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and General Services Commissioner Steven Cates by Friday of this week. Cooper pre-empted the depositions by asking for an order of protection, saying the state had already handed over 13,000 pages of documents. Additionally, five state government staffers — including the author of the curfew rules — gave depositions about meetings where decisions over the plaza’s “Use Policy” with a curfew were made.
“There is no evidence at this juncture that the defendants’ depositions would actually be necessary — the discovery can be had, and has been had, by other means,” stated Cooper’s motion from Jan. 2.
Filed by David Briley, Tricia Herzfeld and Patrick Frogge days after Occupy Nashville protesters were arrested in October 2011, the lawsuit seeks damages for what it alleges was an unconstitutional denial of protesters’ free speech.
The case is in the United States District Court in the Middle Tennessee District, and now awaits a ruling from Judge Aleta Trauger.