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Denver Police Break Out Pepper Spray, Arrest 24 Protesters

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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DENVER (CBS4)- About a thousand Occupy Denver protesters gathered in Civic Center Park at noon on Saturday, then marched through downtown Denver carrying signs and chanting.

The demonstrations had remained peaceful throughout the day but there was a huge police presence as the scene started to get volatile in the evening and at least 24 people were arrested. Dozens of Colorado State Patrol officers teamed up with Denver police to keep the crowds under control. The crowd grew to a couple thousand people as the day went on.

They marched down several streets, including the 16th Street Mall. Police conducted rolling road closures as the crowd made its way through downtown.

Watch Stan Bush’s live CBS4 News at 10 report in the video below:

At 6 p.m. police in riot gear and gang units moved in to clear streets around Lincoln Park and Civic Center Park. The protesters at points in the day spilled into the streets causing traffic problems.

Sgt. Mike Baker with the Colorado State Patrol said they are trying to support the Denver Police Department in keeping the crowds under control. He said the CSP had about 20 to 30 officers.

At 6:15 p.m. police could be seen using batons to push people out of the road. Watch Stan Bush’s live CBS4 News at 5 report in the video below:

Around 6:30 p.m. police had made one arrest. It was not clear why the person was arrested. At 6:40 p.m. a man could be seen resisting police attempts to get him out of the street during a report by CBS4′s Stan Bush. The man was promptly arrested. Watch the arrest in the video below:

“We’re all trying to be peaceful. They want us to take down these two structures. One we’re serving food out of and the other is a (medical) tent just in case people get hot or tired,” a protester told CBS4. “The people have decided they don’t want to take down the tents. We really need them. We will remove them at 11 p.m. Watch the interview in the video below:

But around 7 p.m. police moved to take down the tent that had been set up to hand out food. It looked as if the people occupying the tent were arrested.

Also just after 7 p.m. CBS4′s Jennifer Brice reported police began to use pepper spray to control the crowd. Watch Jennifer Brice’s live CBS4 News at 10 report on the pepper spray in the video below:

Just after 7 p.m. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office released a statement saying, “We respect the First Amendment, but we can’t condone illegal activity. State troopers and Denver police are showing great restraint in the face of very difficult situations. The governor and senior staff have closely monitored the situation in downtown Denver all day and continue to do so. We urge all protesters to obey the law.”

“The vast majority of Occupy Denver protesters today exercised their free speech rights peacefully and within the bounds of the law. Unfortunately, some did not, and Denver police officers and state troopers were forced to take action and make multiple arrests,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement. “We have closely followed the activities all through the day, and my team and I will monitor the situation throughout the night. As I’ve stated all week, Denver will continue balancing First Amendment rights with concerns for public health and safety, ensuring the law is uniformly and consistently enforced.” Watch Mayor Hancock’s reaction in the video below:

Some protesters asked police officers to drop their gear and join them. Others shouted vulgar words at them.

About 7:30 p.m. many of the protesters started gathering on the 16th Street Mall at California Street. The Regional Transportation District was forced to shut down the Free Mall Ride for two hours.

The protesters have planned another rally for Sunday.

Friday night protest leaders respected the 11 p.m. curfew and no one camped in the park.

“I’m not sleeping in the park. I’m staying awake. Sleeping in the park isn’t even worth the ticket,” said protester Marcel French.

It’s a stark contrast to what happened Thursday night and early Friday morning. Colorado State Patrol made good on its promise to enforce the curfew and tore down tents where they had been set up. A total of 23 people were arrested and charged with unlawful conduct on public property.

PHOTO GALLERY: Occupy Denver

State troopers were strategically spread throughout the park Friday night in case anyone did try to set up camp. No one did.

Occupy Denver set up camp last week. The movement started in New York with people protesting Wall Street greed. The crowd has grown considerably since Monday. On Wednesday, there were more than 70 tents with dozens of protesters. They are vowing not to leave without a fight and claim it is their First Amendment right to gather and protest in a peaceful manner.

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