The number of citations and arrests at the recent Burning Man counterculture festival on the Nevada desert was about the same as last year, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials said.
They reported 293 citations and eight arrests at the annual celebration of radical self-expression held the week leading up to Labor Day. That compares with 287 citations and nine arrests at the 2009 festival.
Attorney David Levin of Palo Alto, Calif., accused an "overzealous" BLM of issuing multiple citations to some "Burners" for a single infraction to justify an increasing number of law enforcement officers at the gathering.
In 2007, he founded a volunteer legal defense team known as Lawyers for Burners that helps participants who are cited or arrested at the event, which is held about 110 miles north of Reno on the Black Rock Desert.
"The citation numbers for 2010 are eerily similar to 2009," Levin wrote by e-mail. "It's as if the BLM came to Burning Man in 2010 with a quota to reach and a budget to justify. BLM controls the number of citations and can manipulate the number of citations in any given year."
The BLM has no citation quota, and the number of citations issued at any given festival is based on participant behavior, said Mark Pirtle, special agent in charge for the agency.
He noted the number of citations issued this year was about the same as last year, even though the crowd increased from 43,558 in 2009 to a record 51,515 this year.
"With 8,000 more participants this year, one might predict a lot more citations. But this year BLM officers issued 429 verbal or written warnings in lieu of issuing criminal citations," Pirtle said in a statement.
A total of 254 Burners got citations for a single offense and 18 received citations for multiple offenses, he said.
More than half of citations and all nine arrests were for drug offenses, the BLM reported.
Eighty-six officers were assigned to the festival, including 51 BLM officers, 30 Pershing County officers and five Nevada Division of Investigations officers.
Thirty-eight participants were taken to Reno hospitals and one person died of apparent heart failure.
Pershing County Sheriff Ron Skinner did not return a phone call requesting his department's statistics. His officers deal with far fewer participants than BLM.
The gathering is staged on BLM-managed land within Pershing County boundaries.