Occupy Pensacola: More than a trespass case

By Stephanie Sharp…

This week David Burden was found not guilty of a trespassing misdemeanor. His attorney, Eric Stevenson, fought for his client’s not guilty plea in a case involving the Occupy Movement and city property.

Stevenson saw Burden’s case as begin different from most misdemeanor cases coming through the local court system, including even other trespassing cases.

“There were a lot of constitutional issues at play. It was more than a trespassing case,” said Stevenson.

Burden was arrested pursuant to an order from Mayor Ashton Hayward that, according to Stevenson, singled out members of Occupy Pensacola from being on City property from 11pm to 6am. The rule was put in place in response to the Occupy Pensacola camp set upon the corner of Spring and Government streets–in the shadow of City Hall.

“A jogger would be allowed on City property from 11pm to 6am, but not a member of Occupy.”

The point of contention in the Mayor’s decree, according to Stevenson, was that there was no language in the order that told law enforcement how to identify a member of the Occupy Pensacola group. The participants in the demonstration group do not carry membership cards; there is no official registration form to keep track of names and faces. So how could police identify an Occupy Pensacola member?

These complexities and the undertones of profiling are only part of why Burden’s case was assigned to a more experienced attorney. Although the stakes may have seemed relatively low, with Stevenson claiming that his client probably would have not served jail time if he had been convicted, the media coverage was something for the State Attorney’s office to consider in trying this case.

As a seasoned trial lawyer, Stevenson approaches the courtroom with a battle mindset.

“We fought a worthy adversary, and he did a good job,” said Stevenson.

Besides the legal complexities that separated Burden’s case from usual misdemeanor trials, there was the involvement of the Occupy movement. This national protest has been making headlines across the country since last fall, and Burden’s trespassing case–along with Melody Castro’s–has been making local headlines since their arrest. Apparently, the State Attorney’s office saw this as a case that needed to be handled with experience, and Stevenson respected that.

“They took it seriously.”

Stevenson sees the not-guilty ruling on Burden’s case as something which will most likely have a positive impact on the Occupy Pensacola group. The camp is still standing in the “triangle” of sidewalks on the corner of Spring and Government streets.