PORTLAND – Two violent incidents Thursday night and Friday morning are heightening concerns over the Occupy Maine encampment in Lincoln Park, city officials said.
Police, health and other officials plan to meet with the group’s attorney and several members of Occupy Maine on Monday to discuss the arrests of two protesters and a summons issued to a third, along with what the city says are code violations in the park.
“Based on those discussions, we’ll decide which way we want to go,” City Manager Mark Rees said.
The city has said it is allowing the Occupy Maine group to camp in Lincoln Park — a violation of city ordinances — on a day-to-day basis, based on the group’s responses to city concerns over health and safety issues.
Acting Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Friday that the group remains cooperative and friendly to his officers, who walk through the park several times a day. But he said the two incidents that occurred Thursday and Friday are the latest in the last three weeks to raise concerns about the park encampment.
Police arrested two Occupy Maine protesters and issued a summons to a third after the latest incidents, including one in which police allege a protester was hit in the head with hammer by another protester who described himself as “head of security” for the encampment.
The first incident occurred late Thursday when a man walked into the park to object to the Occupy Maine presence there. Police said one of the protesters, identified as Jason Carr, 25, with no permanent address, confronted and began to punch and push the man, who tried to walk away. Carr continued to hit the man, police said, even as other protesters tried to restrain him.
When police arrived, the man told them he didn’t want to press assault charges, but Carr was described by officers as “highly intoxicated” and “confrontational and uncooperative” and was arrested for disorderly conduct.
The second incident took place around 7 a.m. Friday when protester Alan Porter, 45, of Portland, began banging on a drum to wake other members of the group. According to police, several of the protesters objected and one kicked the drum. When Porter continued to drum, police allege that Danny Arnold, 34, with no permanent address, ran up to Porter and tried to choke him.
Police said after Porter broke away from Arnold, Christopher Schisler, 34, who also listed no permanent address and has called himself “head of security,” broke the drum with a hammer.
As Schisler was walking away, police said, he was hit in the back with a piece of the broken drum. Police allege that Schisler then walked back to Porter and hit him in the head with the hammer.
Arnold was issued a summons for assault, police said, and Schisler has been charged with aggravated assault.
Occupy Maine issued a statement condemning the incidents Friday and said the group remains “resolute in our commitment to nonviolent social and economic change.”
The individuals involved “removed themselves from our community” by their actions, the statement said; it added that the group will work with the police and city to ensure safety.
Sauschuck said police have made other arrests in the last few weeks in Lincoln Park, including a couple of arrests for disorderly conduct, a summons for marijuana possession and a probation violation. In almost every case, police described the people arrested as intoxicated.
At least one city councilor said Portland may be laying the groundwork for future problems by allowing Occupy Maine to stay in Lincoln Park.
Edward Suslovic, who chairs the public safety committee, said the city is setting a precedent and he worries that some other groups — he suggested the Ku Klux Klan — could gather in Portland and expect to be allowed to camp out in a park, too.
“The city has chosen not to enforce its ordinances in this case and it leaves us open to difficult challenges down the road,” Suslovic said. “I’ve been uncomfortable from the get-go because, as public officials, should we bend the rules for one group?” Suslovic said the city has a reputation for accommodating protests, but hasn’t allowed others to continue with violations of ordinances over days and weeks.
“Where do we draw the line?” he asked, and suggested the time for deciding may come in December.
He noted that the City Council is in a sort of limbo right now, with a new mayor elected and the council due to reorganize its committees early next month. If Occupy Maine is still camped out then, he said, he will likely ask the council to take up the issue.
“The situation is evolving from one of a management issue to one of a policy issue,” he said.
Suslovic said city officials have handled the situation well so far, contrasting it with other cities where violence has broken out when police tried to evict Occupy protesters.
He also said many city residents seem sympathetic to Occupy Maine’s issues, which largely revolve around wealth inequity. But, as the first incident Thursday night suggests, that feeling is not universal.
“There are some people who think this is the best thing since sliced bread and the city is doing the right thing and, in fact, should be doing more to accommodate them,” Suslovic said. “There are other people who say, ‘This has gone on long enough.’ Maybe it’s time for the people to reclaim the park from the people.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: