Tennessee state troopers just after midnight Friday arrested 26 people, including a Nashville Scene reporter, in an overnight “curfew enforcement” at Legislative Plaza.
It was the second straight night of arrests at the plaza, which has been the site of Occupy Nashville protests for four weeks.
Saturday morning, the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced that 72 troopers had “removed 26 protesters who refused to leave” the plaza after they were given 10 minutes to do so.
Not mentioned in the state’s release was that the 26 people arrested included a working member of the press, Scene reporter Jonathan Meador, who was apprehended while attempting to leave the plaza.
He was held despite being identified by himself and others as a journalist there to cover the protests.
State officials Friday said that Gov. Bill Haslam had approved the state’s new policy and its enforcement. He later publicly defended the policy to several media outlets and signaled that enforcement of the policy would continue.
In an email to Haslam’s office Saturday morning, SouthComm Inc. CEO Chris Ferrell said, “I expect the Governor to publicly apologize to him for this violation of his rights and to assure the people of Tennessee that this administration will not interfere with the right to a free press that has been a fundamental right in the country since our founding."
Ferrell continued, “I’m sure you understand that every media outlet in this country will vigorously defend our right to cover government action without fear of arrest or reprisal.”
SouthComm publishes both the Nashville Scene and The City Paper.
After the arrests, the group was put on a bus and taken to the Davidson County Jail.
There, Metro Night Court Judge Tom Nelson — who was also on duty for Thursday morning’s arrests — again ordered the immediate release of those who had been arrested, denying troopers’ warrant requests and rejecting the legality of the state’s newly imposed curfew.
“I have reviewed the regulations of the state of Tennessee,” he said, before a room crowded with protesters and media, “and I can find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza.”
At that point, troopers issued the group citations for criminal trespassing. According to the Safety Department release, two protesters were also charged with public intoxication and another with criminal impersonation.
According to members of Occupy Nashville, two protesters suffered minor injuries during the arrests and were taken to the hospital.