COLUMBIA,SC (WACH) - Columbia leaders say they denied a state request to assist officers remove Occupy Columbia demonstrators from State House grounds this week.
Nineteen demonstrators were arrested Wednesday night by troopers with the S.C. Bureau of Protective Services after Governor Nikki Haley ordered them to leave the grounds by 6pm that night. However, she pointed out they could still demonstrate during daylight hours.
The Occupy group had been camped out at the State House since October 15. Haley said the demonstrators never asked for proper permission and have cost the state $17,000 in clean-up costs and overtime for officers.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says the city did not agree to help state officers because Columbia leaders did not believe the Occupiers were breaking any laws.Related Stories Occupy Columbia protesters back outside State House Occupy demonstrators arrested at State House Occupy Columbia protesters hit the road
"This isn't a political issue. It's a constitutional issue," said Benjamin. "It's not been made clear to us or our lawyers or the chief of police that laws have been broken. Unless there's been some laws that have been broken than we are not going to participate in what we perceive as being unjust arrests."
The arrests have drawn criticism from some Midlands legal experts, who point out the demonstrators' right to free speech should not be denied based on the time of day.
The Occupy movement continued at the State House on Friday. Roughly a dozen people demonstrated on the grounds. Members also met with an attorney during Friday's rally to formulate a legal strategy in response to Wednesday night's arrests. Several Midlands attorneys will likely be involved.
The Occupy Columbia demonstrators say they will abide by the governor's 6pm deadline.