Criminal Charges Dropped, Civil Case Pursued

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — Charges against 19 protestors arrested last month for refusing to leave the State House grounds after governor Nikki Haley issued a 6:00p.m. curfew, have been dismissed. The governor, on November 16, had said the protestors damaged State House property by urinating and defecating outside, and were an eyesore and ordered them to vacate. However, 5th circuit solicitor, Dan Johnson, dismissed the charges Wednesday, saying, “there is not enough evidence to prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.” “These are our grounds,” said one protester. ” We pay taxes to maintain these grounds. We don’t want to damage these grounds. We want them to be available to us and anyone else who wants to come to our state house.” With criminal charges out of the way, whether demonstrators’ civil rights have been violated comes to the forefront. Some protesters filed a lawsuit against the state over their first amendment rights. That suit has since been moved from state court to federal court. Attorney Joe McCullough says the state statute regarding proper use of the State House or grounds is vague and says occupiers have a valid case. “If there were specific rules, law not policy, about the hours of use or activities on the grounds, out opinion in this case might be different,” said McCullough. “There are no rules, regulations, that have the force or effect of law.” A Haley spokesperson issued the folliwing statement regarding the dismessed charges of the 19 protesters: “We have a group here that has lived on the grounds, used the state house flower beds as a toilet and now we’re being told there is one set of rules for Cccupy Columbia and another set for everyone else. It’s unacceptable and the governor disagrees with this decision.”

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