LOS ANGELES — More than 1,400 police officers, some in riot gear, cleared the Occupy Los Angeles camp early Wednesday, driving protesters from a park around City Hall and arresting more than 200 who defied orders to leave. Similar raids in Philadelphia led to 52 arrests, but the scene in both cities was relatively peaceful.
Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia moved in on Occupy Wall Street encampments under darkness in an effort to clear out some of the longest-lasting protest sites since crackdowns ended similar occupations across the country.
Beanbags fired from shotguns were used to subdue the final three protesters in a makeshift tree house outside Los Angeles City Hall, police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said, describing it as a minor use of force incident. No serious injuries were reported.
Police Chief Charlie Beck praised the officers and the protesters for their restraint and the peaceful way the eviction was carried out.
Officers flooded down the steps of City Hall just after midnight and started dismantling the two-month-old camp two days after a deadline passed for campers to leave the park. Officers in helmets and wielding batons and guns with rubber bullets converged on the park from all directions with military precision and began making arrests after several orders were given to leave.
There were no injuries and no drugs or weapons were found during a search of the emptied camp, which was strewn with trash after the raid. City workers put up concrete barriers to wall off the park while it is restored. As of 5:10 a.m. PST, the park was clear of protesters, said LAPD officer Cleon Joseph.
The raid in Los Angeles came after demonstrators with the movement in Philadelphia marched through the streets after being evicted from their site. Over 40 protesters were arrested after refusing to clear a street several blocks northeast of City Hall, said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. They were lined up in cuffs and loaded on to buses by officers. Six others were arrested earlier after remaining on a street that police tried to clear.
"The police officers who were involved in this operation were hand-picked for this assignment," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said. "They're highly trained and disciplined and showed a tremendous amount of restraint and professionalism in carrying out this morning's operation."
Nutter said the eviction had been planned for several weeks and went off without largely without problems.
Ramsey said he would have preferred to evict the protesters without making arrests, but some refused orders to clear the street and had to be taken into custody. Three officers had minor injuries. One protester was injured when a police horse stepped on her foot, Nutter said.
The Philadelphia protesters were ordered to clear their encampment in part because a $50 million renovation project was due to start at the City Hall plaza this fall.
"Dilworth Plaza was designated as a construction site," Ramsey said. "They had to vacate. They knew that from the very beginning."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa raised public safety and health concerns in announcing plans for the eviction last week, while Philadelphia officials said protesters must clear their site to make room for a $50 million renovation project.
By dawn in Los Angeles, trash, flattened tents and the stench of urine were the Occupy LA legacy.
City crews were installing chain link fence and concrete barricades around once-lush lawns that are now patches of dirt strewn with tons of debris, including clothing, tents, bedding shoes, trash and two months of human flotsam. Under a tree was a guitar, a bullhorn, CDs and a black bandanna.
Defiant Los Angeles campers who were chanting slogans as the officers surrounded the park, booed when an unlawful assembly was declared, paving the way for officers to begin arresting those who didn't leave.
In the first moments of the raid, officers tore down a tent and tackled a tattooed man with a camera on City Hall steps and wrestled him to the ground. Someone yelled "police brutality."
Teams of four or five officers moved through the crowd making arrests one at a time, cuffing the hands of protesters with white plastic zip-ties. A circle of protesters sat with arms locked, many looking calm and smiling.
Opamago Cascini, 29, said the night had been a blast and he was willing to get arrested.
"It's easy to talk the talk, but you gotta walk the walk," Cascini said.
Police used a cherry picker to pluck five men from trees. Two others were in a tree house — one wore a crown and another taunted police with an American flag.
In Philadelphia, police began pulling down tents at about 1:20 a.m. EST after giving demonstrators three warnings that they would have to leave, which nearly all of the protesters followed. Dozens of demonstrators then began marching through the streets and continued through the night.
Ramsey said breaking up the camp in the early-morning hours helped minimize any disruption to businesses and traffic.
"We acknowledge the fact that we are going to have to leave this space .... but in another sense this has been our home for almost two months and no one wants to see their home taken away from them," Philadelphia protester Bri Barton, 22, said before police began clearing out the camp.
"Whether or not we have this space or work in the city is nowhere near done," she said.
The eviction overall appeared to have been carried out without any significant scuffles or violence.
Later Wednesday morning, workers used front-end loaders to scoop up tents, trash and other debris and dump it into trucks to be hauled away, while others swept the plaza clean.
Demonstrators and city officials in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia were hoping any confrontation would be nonviolent, unlike evictions at similar camps around the country that sometimes involved pepper spray and tear gas. The movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
The Los Angeles officers staged for hours outside Dodger Stadium before the raid. They were warned that demonstrators might throw everything from concrete and gravel to human feces at them.
"Please put your face masks down and watch each other's back," a supervisor told them. "Now go to work."
The officers came from a wide range of specialized units within the force, including the bomb squad, and the arson unit. Scores of officers in hazmat suits also were sent in to deal with potentially unsanitary conditions in the park.
Before police arrived in large numbers, protesters were upbeat and the mood was almost festive. A protester in a Santa Claus hat danced in the street. A woman showed off the reindeer antlers she had mounted on her gas mask. -- (AP)
NEW YORK — Comedian Patrice O'Neal has died from complications after suffering a stroke last month.
O'Neal's manager Jonathan Brandstein said the comedian died Tuesday morning in a New York-area hospital. He was 41.
Brandstein said in a statement, "Many of us have lost a close and loved friend; all of us have lost a true comic genius."
O'Neal appeared on Conan O'Brien's and David Letterman's TV shows and was a frequent guest on the "Opie & Anthony" radio show on Sirius XM.
O'Neal's performance was a highlight of last summer's Comedy Central's roast of Charlie Sheen. Sheen tweeted on Tuesday, "The entertainment world as well as the world at large lost a brilliant man today." He added, "My tears today are for the tremendous loss to his true friends and loving family." -- (AP)
NEW YORK — Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor is being sued by the teenage girl he admitted having sex with in the case that led to his guilty plea to misdemeanor charges earlier this year.
Cristina Fierro filed suit in federal court in New York on Monday. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial.
Taylor was sentenced to six years' probation under a deal to plead guilty to sexual misconduct and patronizing an underage prostitute. The former New York Giants star linebacker was initially charged with third-degree rape, among other counts. Fierro was 16 when the crime occurred in May 2010. She made a statement outside his sentencing hearing in March saying he deserved jail time.
"I feel as though he should be accountable for his crimes and misconduct toward me," Fierro said at a news conference Monday, flanked by lawyer Gloria Allred.
Taylor's lawyer, Arthur Aidala, said in a statement that because of the suit, Taylor and other witnesses "will have to reveal the rather disparaging truth about Ms. Fierro."
Allred said she believed this was the first time the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act had been used to sue a buyer of commercial sex.
As part of the investigation that led to charges against Taylor, Rasheed Davis was sentenced to seven years in prison in August after pleading guilty to transporting a minor for paid sex. He is not being sued. Allred said he could be added as a defendant but would not address why Taylor was included in the suit while Davis wasn't.
The Associated Press does not normally publish the name of accusers in sexual assault cases unless they agree to be named or identify themselves publicly, as Fierro has done.
Taylor also had to register as a sex offender under the plea deal. He was declared a low-risk offender in April, meaning there would be no photo of him on public online registries. -- (AP)
LITHONIA, Ga. — Robert Champion fell in love with music at about age 6 when he saw a marching band at a parade in downtown Atlanta. So mesmerized by the festivities, he came home, took out pots and pans and started banging away like a little drummer.
His passion led him to marching bands from middle school through college. He was a drum major for the famed Marching 100 band of Florida A&M University, a group that has performed at Super Bowls, the Grammys and presidential inaugurations. The prestige brought along a "culture of hazing" and a secret world that played a role in Champion's death, his family said Monday.
"It needs to stop. The whole purpose is to put this out there and let people know there has to be a change," Champion's mother, Pam, said at a news conference.
On Nov. 19, after the school's football team lost an away game to rival Bethune-Cookman, Champion collapsed on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel. The 26-year-old junior had been vomiting and complained he couldn't breathe shortly before he became unconscious.
When authorities arrived about 9:45 p.m., Champion was unresponsive. He died at a nearby hospital.
Authorities have not released any more details, except to say hazing played a role. An attorney representing Champion's family also refused to talk specifics.
"We are confident from what we've learned that hazing was a part of his death. We've got to expose this culture and eradicate it," Christopher Chestnut said. "There's a pattern and practice of covering up this culture."
Since Champion's death, the school has shuttered the marching band and the rest of the music department's performances. The longtime band director, Julian White, was fired.
The college also announced an independent review led by a former state attorney general and an ex-local police chief in Tallahassee, where the historically black college is based.
White, who believes he was unfairly dismissed, said Monday he had suspended 26 band members for hazing two weeks before Champion died. He took heat for the decision, particularly from the parents of band members, and said the punishments were like suspending star football players.
"And so the band members were apprehensive. 'Doc, you think we can go without 19 trombone players?'" White said. "And other folks. 'Doc, do you thing you can do it without them?' My comment was, it doesn't matter, I am not going to sacrifice the performance for the principle."
Hazing has a long history in marching bands, particularly at historically black colleges, where a spot in the band is coveted for its tradition and prominence. Band performances are sometimes revered as much as the school's sports teams.
FAMU has been at the center of some of the worst cases. In 2001, former FAMU band member Marcus Parker suffered kidney damage because of a beating with a paddle. Three years earlier, Ivery Luckey, a clarinet player, said he was paddled around 300 times and had to go to the hospital.
Champion's parents said their son never spoke of hazing. Robert Champion Sr. said he talked to his son just a few days before his death and everything was fine.
"I wanted to believe stuff like that wouldn't happen," he said. "I would ask my son questions. 'Is there anything you need to tell me? Let me know.' He told me, 'Dad everything is going OK. I'm working, trying to go to school and practice.'"
As a child, Champion would use a broom handle to mimic a band director's baton. At one point, he designed his own drum major uniform, his mother said.
"You put him on a field in a performance and he would give you a show," she said.
His first instrument was the clarinet, which he learned to play in the fifth grade. A middle school teacher recognized his talent and he was tapped to lead the school's orchestra and perform with the Southwest DeKalb High School band as an eighth grader. He could also sing and play keyboards.
Chapel Hill Middle School band director Natalie Brown said she'll never forget his outgoing personality and phenomenal musicianship.
"He was always smiling. He never gave me a hard time," she said. "If class was about to start, he'd get everyone quiet and start the warm-up process. He had the drum major mentality way back then."
He was so enthusiastic about performing that his mother would call him "Mr. Band."
At times he struggled with his schoolwork and he didn't immediately go to Florida A&M after high school. But he eventually enrolled, balancing a job with school and his band commitments. In late 2010, he was named drum major.
"His experience in the band was, in his words, great. Robert was happy," his mother said. "He loved the band and everything that went with it. He loved performing. That was his life. You couldn't take him out of it."
The family's attorney said they hoped a lawsuit would lead to changes at the school and prod other hazing victims to come forward.
"We want to eradicate a culture of hazing so this doesn't happen again," said Chestnut. "Hazing is a culture of, 'Don't ask, don't tell.' The family's message today is: 'Please tell.'" -- (AP)
NEW YORK — During the first two months of the nationwide Occupy protests, the movement that is demanding more out of the wealthiest Americans cost local taxpayers at least $13 million in police overtime and other municipal services, according to a survey by The Associated Press.
The heaviest financial burden has fallen upon law enforcement agencies tasked with monitoring marches and evicting protesters from outdoor camps. And the steepest costs by far piled up in New York City and Oakland, Calif., where police clashed with protesters on several occasions.
The AP gathered figures from government agencies in 18 cities with active protests and focused on costs through Nov. 15, the day protesters were evicted from New York City's Zuccotti Park, where the protests began Sept. 17 before spreading nationwide. The survey did not attempt to tally the price of all protests but provides a glimpse of costs to cities large and small.
Broken down city by city, the numbers are more or less in line with the cost of policing major public events and emergencies. In Los Angeles, for example, the Michael Jackson memorial concert cost the city $1.4 million. And Atlanta spent several million dollars after a major snow and ice storm this year.
But the price of the protests is rising by the day — along with taxpayer ire in some places.
"What is their real agenda?" asked Rodger Mawhinney as he watched police remove an encampment outside his apartment complex in downtown Oakland. "I've gone up and asked them, 'What are you truly trying to accomplish?' I'm still waiting for an answer."
The Occupy movement has intentionally never clarified its policy objectives, relying instead on a broad message opposing corporate excess and income inequality. Aside from policing, cleaning and repairing property at dozens of 24-hour encampments, cities have had to monitor frequent rallies and protests.
The spending comes as cash-strapped police departments have cut overtime budgets, travel and training to respond to the recession. Nonetheless, city officials say they have no choice but to bring in extra officers or hold officers past their shifts to handle gatherings and marches in a way that protects free speech rights and public safety. In some cities, officials say the spending is eating into their overtime budgets and leaving less money for other public services.
Protesters blame excessive police presence for the high costs in some places. And they note the cost has been minimal in other cities, and worth the spending because they have raised awareness about what they call corporate greed and the growing inequality between rich and poor.
"We're here fighting corporate greed and they're worried about a lawn?" said Clark Davis of Occupy Los Angeles, where the city estimates that property damage to a park has been $200,000.
In Oakland, where protesters temporarily forced the shutdown of a major port, the city has spent more than $2.4 million responding to the protests. The cash-strapped city, which had to close a $58 million budget gap this year, was already facing an uphill battle when Occupy Oakland began Oct. 10.
"The cost of the encampments is growing and putting a strain on our already fragile resources — police, public works, and other city staff," said Mayor Jean Quan. "We will continue to be vigilant and ensure that public safety remains our first priority and that our downtown businesses are protected from vandalism. We will not tolerate lodging on public property, whether in parks or open space. It is illegal."
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said Occupy-related costs will soar past $3 million when it's all said and done. The city, he said, had to pay more for mutual aid when police removed the encampment at City Hall for a second time on Nov. 14, nearly three weeks after its first early morning raid, leading to dozens of arrests.
"A lot of this could've been avoided if we stood our ground when we went in there in the first place," Arotzarena said. "I know we would've saved the city a significant amount of money."
Portland, Ore., has spent a total of about $785,000 — much of that in police overtime when officers enforced the mayor's order to evict protesters from two downtown parks because of concerns about sanitation and public safety. Randy Leonard, a city commissioner and former firefighter, said he thinks the protest could have cost the city much more if not for a restrained police response.
"The amount of money we're saving by (our) very strategic response versus sending police out en masse to arrest people and cause confrontations dwarfs whatever we've spent so far," Leonard said.
In New York City, the police department has spent $7 million in overtime on the protests. But that's small change given the department's $4.5 billion budget, which allots money for emergency overtime. Last year, the NYPD spent about $550 million on overtime.
"Public safety and providing essential services is what we do. So the first thing we're going to do is handle the situation, and any situation that comes up," Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said. "So yes, this has been significant and it's been going on for many days, but really in the broad scheme of things, it's not something that we aren't prepared to deal with."
Pete Dutro, a protester in charge of finances in New York City, called the NYPD's response "completely unnecessary."
"It's $7 million of taxpayers' money that's being spent to stifle our First Amendment rights," he said. "You know, they've consistently overreacted."
In Seattle, where the National Guard was deployed during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, the mayor has publicly supported the Occupy protesters. But that doesn't mean taxpayers won't feel the pinch later on; the city has already spent at least $625,000 on the protests, with the police department taking the bulk of the costs.
"These costs are currently being absorbed by the departments and may result in reduced service levels in other areas in the future," said Julie Moore, a spokeswoman for Mayor Mike McGinn. She did not specify which public services might suffer.
Other cities were not too concerned about mounting costs, with officials saying they budget for events like these.
"Our view is that unexpected things happen," said Sonji Jacobs, spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. "Occupy Atlanta is something that folks didn't necessarily see coming, but the good news is that we have flexibility in our budget."
Overall, the city spent nearly $652,000 on the protests, paying for everything from overtime for police officers and firefighters to running its mobile command center. The city has $56 million in its reserve fund.
Costs were far lower in Boston than City Council President Stephen Murphy initially predicted last month, when he said police costs for providing security at Occupy Boston for October would be as high as $2 million, based on what a police commander at the scene of mass arrests told him.
The city of Boston has spent $575,000 in overtime through mid-November to pay officers policing Occupy Boston. That's about 2 percent of this year's $30 million police overtime budget.
"We have a history of starting, as well as managing, historic demonstrations," said City Councilor Michael Ross. "We've done it well and we've managed it well, and that's not going to stop anytime soon, and that doesn't cease to exist after it hits a certain budget threshold."
St. Louis; Des Moines, Iowa; Providence, R.I.; and Burlington, Vt., were among the cities surveyed by AP that reported costs of less than $10,000.
Don Tripp, the parks director in Des Moines, said protesters camped out in a city park have arguably saved money by taking their garbage out of the park in barrels and shoveling the sidewalk after the first snow, tasks city employees normally handle.
Unlike some other cities, protesters also agreed to pay the full cost of their electricity usage. Tripp noted the protests did come with an intangible "social cost" — discouraging other residents from using the park that they pay to maintain, too.
"But at the end of the day, the thing that has been in the back of my mind is that during times of public discourse in our country parks are noted for being places where people have the chance to demonstrate their First Amendment rights," he said. "I think their use has been consistent with that."
But not all protesters have been the best neighbors. In Tennessee, where protesters have been camped outside the Capitol, a State General Services spokeswoman said two cleaning crew members have spent about three hours every morning pressure-washing entrances to the building using household cleaners to deodorize them.
And in Los Angeles, property damage to the park surrounding City Hall — where nearly 500 tents are jammed in — is estimated to be at least $200,000, including the destroyed lawn, sprinklers, graffiti on a fountain and damage to trees and shrubs. City Hall spokesman Peter Sanders says there's not a definite estimate on damage yet because workers have not been able to properly inspect the site.
For police officers, the longer hours mean bigger paychecks but come at a cost, driving up their stress levels and potentially leaving less money for other initiatives in the long-term.
Unlike a parade or a one-day march, the Occupy protests are in their third month in some cities and show no signs of easing up, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank for police chiefs.
"You're dealing with 50 to 75 cities where this is going on. In some cities it's a minimal expense. In some cities, it's considerable," he said. "For a city that has slashed overtime, this has an impact. And that means they are going to have to cut back in other ways." -- (AP)