Originally published October 28, 2011 at 6:04 a.m., updated October 28, 2011 at 2:27 p.m.
A legion of officers in riot gear cleared Occupy San Diego protesters out of their unauthorized urban squatters' camp at Civic Center Plaza early today, arresting dozens of activists who refused to cooperate with the predawn expulsion.
The dismantling of the downtown tent community, deemed an unlawful assembly by the city, began about 2 a.m. and lasted roughly 45 minutes, according to San Diego police. There were no reports injuries as 40 people were taken into custody, though two of the detainees resisted and had to be forcibly subdued, SDPD public affairs Lt. Andra Brown said.
During the sweep, overseen by SDPD Chief William Lansdowne and his highest-ranking commanders, some of the demonstrators relocated south to Children's Park. Since that recreation area is closed between midnight and 6 a.m., officers cleared it, as well, taking 11 more people into custody in the process.
Participants in the three-week-old rally -- part of a loose-knit nationwide movement against perceived corporate greed and government corruption -- reassembled later in the morning for a solidarity march. They wound up at SDPD headquarters on Broadway just as a news conference on the morning's events was getting under way.
Addressing reporters inside a conference room, Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long explained the reasons behind the crackdown to the sounds of dozens of protesters chanting and beating drums in an adjacent courtyard. Among the slogans shouted by the group was "Let them out!'', referring to their jailed comrades.
Those arrested -- 37 men and 14 women, ranging in age from 18 to 50 -- will face charges of illegal lodging, unlawful assembly, resisting police and encroachment on public property, Long said.
"The department supports the rights of those who choose to peacefully protest,'' he said. "However, we must balance those rights to (ensure) that they do not impede upon the rights of others or allow for violations of the law.''
As the downtown encampment persisted in recent days despite clean-up orders, city officials deemed it a public nuisance.
"We'd received complaints from the (concourse) facility staff regarding human and animal feces, urination, drug use, littering and damage to city property,'' Long said.
The police personnel who showed up at the civic center en masse this morning gave the demonstrators ample opportunity to remove their possessions, and most of the campers complied, according to the assistant chief.
"Officers then began moving slowly across the plaza, providing an exit for those wishing to leave,'' he said.
Long discounted reports that police had stepped on or walked over a tent while demonstrators slept inside.
"That is not true, to my knowledge,'' he said. "The chief, I and other members of the command staff were watching the entire event. Those officers were slow; they were methodical.''
Mayor Jerry Sanders praised the police department's handling of the volatile situation.
"I thought our officers did an excellent job," he said.
Regarding the timing of the sweep, the mayor said Lansdowne and his assistants appeared to have chosen the dead of night as "the least confrontational time.''
"We don't care if (the demonstrators) go anywhere,'' he said. "They have a legitimate right to protest wherever they want. They just have to follow the guidelines.''
Noting that the squatters had been asked dozens of times, in a non-confrontational manner, to remove their shelters and other trappings from the plaza, Sanders said the lingering assembly had raised safety concerns as well as potential sanitary problems.
"They shouldn't have been shocked that this happened,'' he said.
Occupy San Diego members will be free to return to the concourse as long as they do not set up camp again, Long said.
Shortly after daybreak, workers began giving the concourse a thorough cleaning as a group of protesters watched from the nearby corner of Third Avenue and B Street, standing behind a row of police officers. As the crew used powerful hoses to spray down the courtyard, one of ousted demonstrators yelled, "Thank you for washing my house!''
Protesters first converged on the plaza Oct. 7 to take their stand against purported misdeeds of banks, corporations and politicians. The movement began in New York last month and has since spread nationwide.
The local rally has been largely free of confrontation, with the exception of an Oct. 14 scuffle during which officers pepper-sprayed about a half-dozen protesters and arrested two of them while clearing camping gear from the public space next to City Hall.
In defiance of city officials' orders to keep the concourse clear of personal items, demonstrators began erecting tents there again earlier this week.
Participants in the ongoing rally have vowed to remain in the downtown area until their demands -- including meaningful action addressing joblessness, poverty and political corruption -- are met or at least sincerely considered.