The mystery of where OccupyMaine's signs went is partially solved: it turns out their removal was witnessed — and by a police officer! Acting Police Chief Mike Sauschuck says that at about 1:15 am on Sunday, January 15, an officer saw a vehicle parked on the side of Congress Street with its four-way flashers on, and got out to see what was going on.
The officer, whom Sauschuck says frequently patrols Lincoln Park, saw a man nearby taking down signs from the park's fence along Congress Street. The officer "immediately recognizes him as someone he's seen in Lincoln Park on multiple occasions," Sauschuck says, including during the wee hours. Sure enough, the person identified himself as an OccupyMaine member who was unable to make the group's big park cleanup the weekend before; the officer got his name and address, and let him carry on, Sauschuck says.
That officer then went off-duty for a couple of days, during which the Occupiers tried to report to police that the signs had been stolen, but were stymied by police confusion (see "Court Looms; Camp Signs Missing," by Jeff Inglis, January 20). When the officer returned to work, he saw the Occupiers were seeking their missing signs, and filled in what he had seen.
The officer stopped by Lincoln Park on his first evening back on duty and saw the sign-remover again there, and spoke with him, Sauschuck says. Officers later went to the man's residence, spoke with him, and got a written statement from him about what had happened, including saying he was a member of OccupyMaine.
As that information filtered back to the Occupiers, the confusion really set in. Police have not released the sign-remover's name publicly, but did give it to OccupyMaine attorney John Branson, who says that prominent Occupiers he has been working with don't know the man: "No one recognizes his name," Branson says, and "no one recognizes his photo" in a Facebook profile photo bearing that name.
Branson scoffed at the idea that the police should have taken the man at his word as an OccupyMaine member: "He identified himself that way when he was caught stealing signs in the middle of the night." Though Branson did admit it worked: "It successfully caused the police officer to leave him alone."
Branson says the group will file a complaint against the man; Sauschuck has asked that such a message come directly to his office to make sure it gets handled properly.
The complaint will happen after the Phoenix's deadline, because OccupyMaine's request for a court order requiring the city to let the group continue camping in Lincoln Park was heard Tuesday in Cumberland County Superior Court, in a proceeding that began without opening statements but jumped right into testimony on the major issues, which are First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, additional rights under the Maine Constitution (including freedom "to institute government" — perhaps such as convening General Assemblies), and the city ordinance against loitering in public parks. A ruling is expected later this week.
Meanwhile, around the city, with the help of five local artists who wish to remain anonymous, the statue in Monument Square, the lobsterman outside the Nickelodeon, and the Longfellow statue at Congress and State streets were "in solidarity" with the Occupy movement, wearing black-and-yellow police-style tape reading "Occupy." The same group symbolically foreclosed on the Bank of America branch in Monument Square, as well as local branches of Morgan Stanley and Sotheby's.