Attorney asks state to preserve data tied to Occupy protests

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH, AP) - A Columbia attorney has asked a Richland County judge to require Gov. Nikki Haley, her staff, and other state workers to preserve all electronic communications related to the Occupy Columbia protests and arrests.

Attorney Mark Schnee filed the legal brief late Monday, just hours before the Occupy group challenged Haley's 6 p.m. protest curfew on State House Grounds. Roughly 200 demonstrators rallied against her nearly week-old decree. No arrests were made and some protesters spent the night on the grounds roughly a week after that was deemed out of bounds.

Through an order to preserve electronic data, Schnee persuaded a Richland County judge to require the governor, her staff, law enforcement and other government workers to preserve emails, text messages, voice mails and other electronic communication related to the Occupy protests and arrests.

Schnee wrote in his legal filing "counsel asserts this information is necessary to protect the rights of the (defendant) for the defense of his criminal charge stemming from the Nov. 16, 2011 arrest."

Schnee put forth the legal filing on behalf of his client Walid Hakim, a veteran who also ran for Columbia city council in recent years, and who has been a vocal part of the Occupy Columbia movement since it started. Hakim was arrested last Wednesday along with 18 other demonstrators who rallied on State House grounds after the governor put a 6 p.m. curfew in place.

The order to preserve came the same day the South Carolina Press Association questioned the governor's office for deleting emails they did not consider important so they can save server space. Some argue that violates the Public Records Act of 1976.

"The governor and every member of our staff follow both the law and the long-standing policy of the Office of the Governor. We always have, and we always will," said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey in a statement to WACH Fox News.

A policy of deleting emails could make it hard for the public to find out what led to Occupy demonstrators being ordered to end their 24-hour-a-day protests on State House grounds last week. Occupiers essentially set up a campground for their round-the-clock protest.

The chief of security at the South Carolina Statehouse says officers arrested a protester for defecating on the grounds but couldn't remember when, and the state's public safety agency has yet to produce an incident report.

Public urination was one reason Gov. Nikki Haley gave Nov. 16 in ordering Occupy Columbia protesters off Statehouse grounds by 6 p.m.

Neither her office nor the Department of Public Safety has provided documentation or video of grounds that are under heavy surveillance to back that up.

Bureau of Protective Services Chief Zackary Wise told reporters Monday night that officers did arrest someone for defecating on the grounds at some point since the protest began in October. The comment represented the first mention of any protester arrested prior to last week's 19 arrests for trespassing.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)