OKLAHOMA CITY — An attorney for 10 Occupy OKC protesters who were arrested last year for chanting at a Del City department store said Wednesday that she is nearing an agreement with city officials.
Attorney Brittany Novotny said she has reached an “agreement in principle” with city officials in the working class suburb east of Oklahoma City that could settle criminal charges against the protesters and a potential lawsuit from the group. Novotny declined to discuss details of the agreement, and the city attorney for Del City did not return a telephone message. The protesters are scheduled to appear in court next week. Criminal charges against them and a potential tort claim from the group could be settled if an agreement with the city reached, Novotny said.
“A settlement hasn’t been signed officially,” Novotny said. “I’m awaiting paperwork on that, but it looks like this should be officially settled within the week.”
The 10 protesters were arrested by Del City police on Nov. 25 after conducting a group chant inside a Wal-Mart store. They were jailed for disorderly conduct. One member of the group, Jay Vehige, also was charged with resisting arrest.
The Oklahoma group was inspired by the national Occupy Wall Street movement that began one year ago and was protesting wage disparities between store workers and high-level company officials.
Occupy OKC participant Mark Faulk said the store in Del City was the third Wal-Mart the group had visited that morning and conducted a group chant. In the first two stores, both in Oklahoma City, the group headed toward the exits after being asked to leave by store personnel, Faulk said. He maintains Del City police used excessive force by tackling and handcuffing participants who were heading toward the exit after being asked to leave.
“When we got to Del City, they were literally waiting for us,” Faulk said. “It’s very obvious that their intent all along was to aggressively detain and arrest us.”
Del City Police Capt. Jody Suit said he could not comment because of the pending cases. Police at the time disputed the protesters’ claims that excessive force was used.
Novotny filed a tort claim against Del City on behalf of the 10 protesters that was rejected by the city. She said the next step would be to file an action in federal court alleging the protesters were wrongly detained and suffered physical and emotional distress, and that the city failed to properly train and supervise its officers.
But Novotny said she hopes further litigation can be avoided through a settlement with the city.
“We held off on that (filing a federal lawsuit) in hopes that we can continue to negotiate,” she said.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began one year ago in New York’s Zuccotti Park with a group of young people who took to the streets chanting about corporate greed and inequality. It quickly spread across the nation, and an Occupy OKC group took over a downtown park for more than a month before being forced to leave.
Faulk said the Oklahoma City group is planning an informal one-year reunion celebration on Oct. 7 at Will Rogers Park in Oklahoma City.