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Geoff Burns

Boise's best-known camper goes to court

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John "Geoff" Burns, a 63-year-old husband, father and grandfather, is best known as the man who went camping on Oct. 15, 2011. It was where he decided to pitch his tent that got him the most attention (and landed him in jail). In an act of solidarity with global events attached to the Occupy movement, Burns was arrested for camping after dark on City of Boise property and then refusing to leave.

But don't confuse Burns with a left-wing stereotype.

"I come from a long line of capitalists," said Burns. "My grandfather and father provided timber to mining operations."

But after watching his nation lean more toward corporate interests and away from its citizenry, Burns decided it was time to do something.

Before your arrest last October, had you ever had any run-in with law enforcement?

I think I was about 30 years old and my dog, who was everybody's best friend, got loose. He got thrown in the pokey and I paid a bunch of money to bail him out. When I received a summons in the mail, saying I owed money for my dog getting lose, I figured it crossed in the mail because I had already paid, but I had to pay them even more.

I'm presuming that you were fully aware of what you were doing on Oct. 15, 2011, and where you were doing it.

Sure.

And the possible consequences?

I really didn't anticipate being arrested.

What was going through your head or your heart in the days leading up to that event?

It was very early in the Occupy movement. I had been to the first Occupy Boise march--300 people in the driving rain--it was pretty powerful. Oct. 15, 2011, had been declared a global day of action, and the night before, I hadn't heard of anything planned locally, so I decided I wanted to do something.

Tell me how you were treated by law enforcement.

The police were very accommodating and respectful. There's a benefit to being 63 years old.

You were behind bars for two hours before your wife bonded you out.

The bond was $300, but they tacked on a lot of fees, so it was just under $350.

Is your attorney, Bryan Walker, charging you?

It's pro bono. He called me and said he had an interest in my case.

When you appeared before Magistrate Judge Daniel Steckel, your attorney had filed a motion to dismiss the charges.

He filed the motion over a month ago. But the city's prosecutors hadn't filed any response. Mr. Walker also filed a motion to compel prosecutors to provide evidence to back up their case.

Is it fair to say that prosecutors weren't prepared?

I think so. I was totally shocked.

What happens next?

Prosecutors have another 30 days to file their response. Then, we'll have another two weeks to look at their response before scheduling our return to court.

What is the basis of the motion to dismiss?

My constitutional rights. It's a First Amendment case.

Was your confidence level any different walking out of the courtroom than from when you walked in?

My confidence level is set apart from the proceedings. I'm very comfortable with what I did regardless of the outcome. One of the prosecutor's arguments was that I never asked for permission. And I thought about that. What would our country look like if someone like Rosa Parks had to ask permission?

Would you do it again tomorrow?

I may do it again tomorrow.

Aren't you a bit surprised that others haven't followed your example?

Very surprised. I really am.

Do you have a sense that your actions transcend who you are as an individual?

I sat in the courtroom and realized that it wasn't about me. It was about ideas, and that validates what I did. Here's the thing. There's that court, but what's really important is the court of public opinion. That's how our democracy has grown. The phrase "all men are created equal" was written with white, Anglo-Saxon landowners in mind--not women and not persons of color. We need to keep expanding the franchise.

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