Police in riot gear, protesters in chains as demolition begins at Union Plaza neighborhood

Protesters chain themselves to a building in the Duranguito neighborhood. Photo: KFOX14 / CBS4

The demolition that began in the Duranguito neighborhood has been halted and protesters formed human chains Tuesday to prevent any further demolition.

Construction crews were spotted early Tuesday. El Paso historian Max Grossman said one of the buildings set for demolition is historic and that further demolition has been put on hold.

An injunction had been handed down Monday evening by the 8th Court of Appeals to stop the demolition. However, demolition crews began working to bring some of the building down in the neighborhood.

More than a half-dozen buildings were damaged by a demolition company. Grossman said police were called to enforce the court order issued by Judge Patrick Garcia.

Grossman said, "The City of El Paso and the two property owners, Dr. Roberto Assael and Alejo Restrepo, have violated a court order signed by all three judges of the 8th Court of Appeals. The demolition action this morning was a blatant act of cowardice and a violation of the law. We filed contempt of court charges at 10:29 a.m. and have requested a hearing today [Tuesday]."

El Paso city officials released the following statement Tuesday at 10:21 a.m.

The City of El Paso is complying with the Order issued by the Eighth Court of Appeals which prohibits the City from taking steps related to the demolition of privately-owned properties within the MPC Footprint.
Last night, the City Attorney’s Office contacted the attorney representing the private property owners and requested that the property owners comply with the order, even though the property owners are not named in the order, and that the property owners not proceed with the demolition of the properties.
Earlier today, the appellate court amended the order to add an address which had not been included in the original order requested by Mr. Grossman’s attorneys.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo released the following statement Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

The series of events regarding the MPC has been unfortunate. The City of El Paso is complying with the Order issued by the Eighth Court of Appeals. The City does not yet own or control the properties within the MPC footprint, and did not initiate the demolition scheduled for September 12. The property owners were not part of the order; however, the City issued a letter to their attorneys requesting they not proceed with the demolition. The City will continue to comply with the law regarding the MPC.

Meanwhile dozens of protestors chained themselves to one of the buildings in the neighborhood while about 50 law enforcement officers remained at the scene in riot gear.

City Attorney Sylvia Firth and Margo held a press conference about the protests and partial demolitions just after 3 p.m.

"The city did not conduct partial demolition of the buildings," Firth said. "These are the private property owners that own the property who were properly issued their demolition permits and were lawfully proceeding to do so."

Firth said the original injunction requested by the Grossman team had an affirmative action that would have required the city to revoke the demolition permits from the property owners but that did not make it into the order issued by the court.

"The city notified the property owners late last night, we sent them a letter advising them of the order and requesting their voluntary compliance with the order and asking them to please stand down until we could resolve things at the court," Firth said.

Firth said the property owners responded by saying that they were not bound by the order and were going to proceed with the demolition.

The mayor stood at the podium and reiterated Firth's statements in saying the city did not spearhead the demolition.

"Police officers are on the site simply for safety reasons," the mayor said. "We have many people who have gathered in the area and we understand they feel very strongly about the situation. We ask that they protest calmly and not impede the placing of the fence, the movement of vehicles, or any other action that may be harmful."

The mayor said the city is trying to comply with the will of the people, reminding the public that the project was approved in 2012 by 72 percent of the voters.

"At what point in time do we as elected city officials have a fiduciary obligation to abide by the voters’ wishes?" Margo said.

Firth said the city received a notice by the court saying the judges are reviewing the filings by both parties and expect some kind of resolution soon.

Our news crew is at the scene following this developing story.

Just after 4:30 p.m., Grossman addressed protestors with a new amended court order in hand that mandated all demolition permits already obtained by property owners be revoked.

This once again halts demolition for the eight Union Plaza properties. The city has until Sept. 18 to respond to the new court order.

Be sure to check back for updates to this article as the situation progresses.

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