A demonstrator removes his belongings from the Occupy DC encampment at Freedom Plaza on Jan. 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. / Win McNamee/Getty Images
WASHINGTON - A federal judge said Tuesday that the U.S. government must notify one of the last major Occupy encampments if it intends to clear a downtown park of protesters.
The decision from U.S. District Judge James Boasberg means the protesters will have an opportunity to challenge their eviction beforehand.
Protesters remained Tuesday at McPherson Square, the city's main Occupy site, a day after the National Park Service began enforcing a ban on camping on federal park grounds. Officials have not said when or if they will clear the park of protesters, though a lawyer for the government said in court Tuesday that she was unaware of any imminent plans to do that.
The U.S. Park Police would, however, be permitted to clear the park without notice if there's an emergency or urgent health concern. D.C. health officials and Mayor Vincent Gray have cited a rat infestation in McPherson Square as a continuing concern.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marina Braswell said authorities did not plan to seize the tents of protesters who are complying with the camping ban, which prohibits the use of bedding materials, and other laws.
Jeffrey Light, a lawyer who is representing two of the protesters and is seeking class action status for his case, argued that the National Park Service does not have clear standards for deciding when and how to seize tents and how to ensure that seized belongings are returned to their owners. But Braswell said those concerns were hypothetical because she said there's no evidence that protesters' property has been destroyed.
"The plaintiffs have supplied no evidence that anyone has tried to get property back from the Park Police and has been unable to do so," she said.
Protesters appeared to expect a confrontation after the park service announced on Friday that it would enforce the camping ban, effective noon Monday. A sign advertised a "high noon" showdown, though that never happened. The demonstrators put up a blue tarp over most of a statue of Major Gen. James McPherson, a Civil War general for whom the park is named, and gathered underneath the tent.