RIVERSIDE (CBS) — A 66-year-old Indio woman who took part in the Occupy Coachella Valley protests pleaded guilty Tuesday to an infraction for staying in a Palm Desert park past curfew.

Gale Wheat was initially charged with a misdemeanor count of staying or loitering in a public park without a permit.

Palm Desert Deputy City Attorney Doug Phillips agreed to reduce to the charge to an infraction at Wheat’s arraignment today at the Larson Justice Center, according to the Palm Desert Patch.

Wheat, who was ordered to pay a $125 fine, told reporters that she hired a Riverside attorney who had been negotiating with the city for several days.

Phillips could not be immediately reached for comment.

Wheat was one of 10 people arrested Nov. 1 on suspicion of camping illegally in Palm Desert’s Civic Center Park as part of the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement.

Five others arrested in connection with the protest are due back in court Feb. 22 for a pretrial hearing.

Jack Lee Noftsger III, 27, Mary Elizabeth Walker, 22, Dustin David Powell, 29, and Stephen Mark Finger, 58, all of Palm Desert, and Palm Springs resident Ryan Donald Cartwright, 21, all pleaded not guilty in January to unlawful assembly. Cartwright also pleaded not guilty to two counts of resisting arrest. All were released on their own recognizance.

Members of the group had been in the park since Oct. 24, participating in the nationwide Occupy movement, intended to draw attention to what demonstrators argue is the growing gap between rich and poor.

The defendants were arrested by deputies sent to the park to enforce the 11 p.m. curfew, sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Shouse said.

The group was granted temporary use permits by the city over four days in the last week of October, which allowed them to stay overnight in the park.

The city declined to issue another permit at the end of the week, and sheriff’s deputies asked the protesters to leave.

“Most of the subjects relocated to the sidewalk upon our arrival,” Shouse said then. “Seven subjects remained on the park property and were arrested.”

Two more people were arrested an hour later after they entered the park “in defiance of officers who were securing the scene,” Shouse said.
Another woman was arrested later that night, he said.

Assistant City Attorney Robert Hargreaves has said the city supports the group’s First Amendment rights, but could not allow the park to be used as a campground for an extended period of time.

“By providing Occupy Coachella Valley with a highly visible, dry, shaded space with 24-hour access to restrooms, the city accommodated the group’s First Amendment rights while protecting public health and safety and the rights of our residents and visitors to continue using Civic Center Park,” according to a city statement.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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