Charlotte-Mecklenburg police returned to the Occupy Charlotte site before daybreak Tuesday, awakening and evicting several protesters who were sleeping on the lawn of the old City Hall overnight.
According to several reports from the scene, about a half-dozen patrol cars arrived about 6:15 a.m. Tuesday and aimed their spotlights on the front lawn, where police had evicted dozens of protesters and torn down at least 30 tents Monday afternoon.
After awakening the Occupy Charlotte participants with their floodlights, police officers walked onto the lawn and ordered the protesters to leave. There appeared to be no arrests, unlike Monday, when seven Occupy Charlotte members were charged with misdemeanors.
Unlike previous days, the Occupy Charlotte participants this morning were sleeping on the ground, not under tents.
After the protesters left the site Tuesday morning, gathering on a nearby sidewalk, a crew of workers arrived and began picking up trash from the lawn.
William Albritton, who was back on the lawn today, said some Occupy Charlotte participants told him the officers warned people not to sleep on the lawn, and that anyone caught sleeping in the future would be arrested.
The police action comes on a day when Ken Davies, an attorney representing Occupy Charlotte, was planning to seek a temporary restraining order against the anti-camping ordinance. But Davies and CMPD attorney Mark Newbold agreed to postpone their hearing until a future date.
Meanwhile, Albritton said Occupy Charlotte plans to have people manned at an information tent the one structure they were allowed to keep at the lawn around the clock for the time being. The group plans to hold another assembly meeting tonight.
Were still just as strong as we were, Albritton said. They didnt hurt the movement. All that they honestly did was inconvenience the people who were camping here.
A group of about 60 Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers walked across East Trade Street shortly after 2:45 p.m. Monday, moments after Capt. Jeff Estes had given Occupy Charlotte members "one final warning" to take down their tents and comply with the new ordinance, which prohibits living in tents on city property.
With protesters surrounding officers and shouting "Shame!" and "Arrest us! We'll multiply," police began taking down the tents and tossing them into waiting garbage trucks.
Six people locked legs on the ground and refused to move. Police separated them and led some away in handcuffs. All of those arrested were charged with obstructing and delaying officers.
By 3:45 p.m., all of the nearly 40 tents were gone. Twenty protesters regrouped under the movement's information tent, which police said did not violate the new ordinance.
Police Capt. Jeff Estes said seven people were arrested on charges of delaying and obstructing officers, a misdemeanor.
Bizarre, chaotic afternoon
The event produced bizarre moments, such as when the protesters sang the "Hokey Pokey" as police advanced on the tents. Two protesters ran back and forth with small tents on their heads - one contained profanity-laced messages against police.
At one point, a man did "The Worm" - a gyrating dance move - in front of the police station.
The scene was a stark contrast to violent confrontations that have broken out in some cities where the Occupy movement has spread. In Oakland, for instance, tensions remained high after weekend clashes between protesters and police ended in more than 400 arrests.
In Charlotte, people in nearby buildings watched Monday's proceedings through office windows and from rooftops. Police Chief Rodney Monroe watched from the steps of the police station, just across the street.
"We didn't get anybody hurt," he said afterward. "As far as I'm concerned, that's a success."
Protester Don Faix of Concord, who often staffed the information tent, said the event was fuel for the movement to continue, and even grow in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention this fall.
"Today's their turn. What's coming up is our turn. We're going to wake this city up," Faix said.
Lawsuit cites free speech
Ken Davies, an attorney representing some of the protesters, filed a lawsuit on Monday asking a judge to declare that Occupy Charlotte's use of the lawn at Old City Hall is protected under the First Amendment and N.C. Constitution. It further asks a judge to declare that the city's application of the ordinance violates the protesters' rights.
Later, the suit alleges the new ordinance "has already irreparably harmed" the movement.
A hearing on the group's request for a restraining order has been scheduled for this afternoon before Superior Court Judge Jesse Caldwell.
Occupy Charlotte tried on Monday to delay the eviction before police arrived, asking Caldwell to issue a restraining order. But Caldwell said the docket was full and told attorneys they would have to wait.
The original version of the law presented to City Council Jan. 9 prohibited all tents and temporary structures on city property. But the city changed the wording before the Jan. 23 vote to only prohibit tents and temporary structures used for living accommodations.
The city said the change was made to give protesters protection from the weather, such as a sun shade on a summer day.
That raised the hopes of protesters. Over the weekend, many cleared out their tents of personal belongings and bedding, and wrote on their tents that they weren't being used for sleeping.
But police still took the tents and placed them in nearby garbage trucks as protesters chanted "Our tents are in compliance! We are not sleeping in these tents!" The only structure allowed to remain was an open tent supported by four metal poles. That structure, the group's information tent, was deemed OK by police.
A similar structure a few feet away was taken down. Estes said the one Occupy structure was allowed to stay to allow the group to distribute literature and other information.
When asked if the police would allow a second structure, or whether another protest group could erect a similar tent, Estes said: "The one that they have is permissible. I can't speak to the others."
Tension began building in the Occupy Charlotte camp on Sunday, when Estes warned protesters that they were violating the new city ordinance and could be subject to arrest.
Tent numbers grew overnight
But the number of tents on the lawn grew overnight, to nearly 40, and members of the group stayed inside a few of the tents.
On Monday, officers returned at 7 a.m. and then at 10:30 a.m. to tell protesters that officers would arrive around 2:30 p.m. to remove the tents.
The police blocked off the street between the police department and old City Hall. A police helicopter hovered overhead.
As roughly 60 police officers filed out of police headquarters around 2:45 p.m., Occupy Charlotte members yelled "Flamingo!" and several ran to tents and zipped themselves inside.
A police officer with a search dog went from tent to tent, seeing if someone was inside. Officers encircled the tents. The first man arrested was Steve Miguel Barker, who refused to come out of a tent near Trade and Davidson streets. As police unzipped his tent, he was kneeling on his knees with his hands behind his back.
Shortly after that, police arrested a woman who gave her name as Laurel Green (police say she is Laura Brooks), a software developer who said she's been involved in the protest for months.
She said she'd unsuccessfully reached out to City Council members, Estes and others to try to determine how to make her tent comply with the law.
"I've never been arrested. I'm heartbroken that it's come to this, and I'm scared," she told the Observer shortly before officers moved in.
Thomas Gray Leinbach, 29
Judson Charles Abraham, 21
Jason Ryan Dow, 26
Steve Miguel Barker, 35
Adam Duncan Price, 23
Scottie Lynn Wingfield, 36
Laura Brooks, 48
Staff writers April Bethea, Doug Miller and Brittany Penland contributed