Occupy FIU members charged with ‘unlawful assembly’

Photo credit: Carlos Miller

By: Melissa Caceres and Lauren Rovira/FIUSM Staff

Seven participants of the Occupy FIU Art & Music Festival were arrested around 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, on the Modesto Maidique Campus near the Deuxième Maison pit.

The people arrested were comprised of two FIU students, Carlos Ortiz and Derrick Mustelier; one alum, Alex Rosales; and four non-FIU students, Alfredo Quintana, Philip Picaza, Jonathan Brand and Raul Serrano.

All seven were charged with unlawful assembly and released from Miami-Dade County Jail the next day. Records show each was being held on $500 bond.

“[The police] told us we were being too loud and that we had to move,” said Picaza in an interview with Student Media. “When I raised my voice to inform everyone else, I was immediately grabbed and put under arrest and so were six other people just for being at the right place at the wrong time.”

Police officers were questioned by Student Media about the events at the DM pit, but refused to comment; instead directing all questions to the Office of Media Relations.  In a response to The Miami Herald, Director of Media Relations Maydel Santana-Bravo stated that the arrests happened because the students did not have a permit to protest in the area.

“We asked them to stop, to move and leave. They refused,” Santana-Bravo said.

Around 20 people had gathered to set up for the concert series put on by Occupy FIU at the DM Pit, which was organized in support of the University’s Haiti earthquake anniversary commemoration. Seven different local bands were scheduled to play from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.; three videographers were also present at the time.

Formed in fall 2011, Occupy FIU is a group formed to emulate the Occupy Wall Street protests by localizing the discontent of the protesters to the overall discontent at the University. Their campaigns include bringing to light the “injustices behind tuition hikes, sordid university fees and the alarming privatization of public education.”

According to several members, they had received prior verbal approval from the University’s ombudsman to host their event at that location.

Political science major William Sanchez, one of the main organizers of the event, said they were told that there should not be a problem and that the only thing that could disrupt the event is if someone were to complain about the noise.

Yet in an interview later with Student Media, University Ombudsman Larry Lunsford claimed no such thing.

“I didn’t give them permission. The last time I spoke with the group was last fall and in no relation to yesterday’s event,” said Lunsford, who is in charge of resolving student issues with faculty, staff, departments or programs. “Perhaps they thought, if we throw out a name, they wouldn’t get arrested.”

The event had “hardly started,” according to members of Occupy FIU, when the authorities began to intervene.

As they attempted to set up, they were stopped by FIU police as well as two Miami-Dade County Police officers.

For about an hour, the Occupy members and police tried to negotiate the noise level. As the members were preparing to leave, Picaza got on a megaphone and instructed the crowd to move to the Graham Center lawn and that those unhappy with what was happening should mail a complaint with University’s administrators.

“We were making no noise, there was nothing playing, it was really peaceful,” said Victoria Aguila, Occupy FIU member.  “We were asked to leave, but when one of our members spoke up to try to get the people to the lawn, he was arrested.”

Lieutenant Ricardo Torres went to Picaza and told him to stop using the megaphone. He obeyed and then employed use of “The Human Mic,” a strategy developed by the Occupy movement where a crowd “echoes the words of the person using the Human Mic, so that everyone can hear the message.”

Once doing so, Torres moved away from the member and motioned to the other police officers, stating, “it’s time.”

The FIU police officers began making arrests.

“They just picked up random people,” said Sanchez. “Everyone was chanting ‘Shame on you! This is unjust!’”

Members claim that the charged individuals were not read their Miranda rights nor told their charges during their arrests on campus.

“I asked the officers why they were being arrested, but he kept threatening me, ‘You want to be next? You want to be next?’,” Aguila said. “They arrested the two guys next to me that were just standing there.”

In November 2011, the Occupy FIU held a teach-in at the same location, with around 90 people in attendance to learn more about the localized movement. According to Andrea Nuñez, an FIU alum and one of the group’s organizers, the event took place without any issue or any permit.

This, added Nuñez, was one of the reasons they decided to use the location.

While the University has designated free speech zones, such as the GC fountain, throughout each campus, the DM pit is not an area classified as one of them.

“This was not a demonstration whatsoever. This was really just a music festival in solidarity with the Haiti Earthquake,” Aguila said.  “We were very peaceful the whole time, even when the arrests were taking place.”

Additional reporting by Alexandra Camejo and Neda Ghomeshi.

1 Comment on "Occupy FIU members charged with ‘unlawful assembly’"

  1. Victoria Gonzalez | January 18, 2012 at 8:57 PM | Reply

    Let me begin by saying that individuals have the right to peaceably protest and gather on public property. 

    Now let me also say that when putting on a music festival, especially using the electricity and property of the university you need explicit consent, not implied or assumed. 

    I don’t really understand why the Occupy movement is at FIU, however, that is within their constitutional rights so I support them as fellow citizens. I will not support, however, the impression they have that freedom of assembly means you can use property which doesn’t belong to you to make a political statement which may or may not be supported by the owners in question. 

    As an alumna of FIU, who attended the University for 5 years, received 2 Bachelors, and is now in law school I can say that I have never received any unjust treatment from the school or their administration, or even the police department. The fact is that this organization had complete disregard for the policies of the university and the state when organizing their festival, and it is no one’s fault but their own that they got arrested….

    Lesson learned: next time get a permit or go through the proper channels of authority and secure signed documentation stating that you are lawfully permitted to do whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. This will save all the Occupy students, and all students as a whole, a lot of time and resources to learn this lesson. If you do everything you need to do, then you are untouchable unless you violate the stipulations of the permission received. 

    My last comment, and I promise I’m done: Peaceable conduct is not limited to conduct which is not violent, it means that you are not making obscene amounts of noise or getting in the way of the regular day to day occurrences. The police had the right to arrest individuals participating in this rally because it was in fact not peaceable. They planned on using resources which they were not permitted to use, and make noise which they were not permitted to make. Its like getting a fine for violating a sound ordinance, except in this case, had they gone through the proper authorities and secured documentation, they would not be in this mess to begin with. I get how daunting bureaucratic can be, but sometimes you need to work within the system to get your out of the box ideas heard. 

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