Climate Activists Challenge Abuse During Maryland Civil Disobedience Arrest

Posted Dec. 9, 2015

MP3 Interview with Heather Doyle, climate activist with Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction (SEED), conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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Last February, climate activists Carling Sothoron and Heather Doyle climbed atop a crane in order to interrupt construction of Dominion Energy's Cove Point liquefied natural gas export terminal in Lusby, Maryland, a $3.8 billion project on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Opponents say the terminal and related industrial infrastructure will bring noise, toxic air pollution and the possibility of an explosion to residents living in the neighborhood located near the site. They also say the terminal will greatly increase fracking throughout the Marcellus shale region where natural gas is extracted; and blow a hole in any attempt to rein in carbon pollution, the major contributor to climate change.

The women are members of a local direct action group called Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction, or SEED. After the pair were arrested, Sothoron accepted a sentence of probation while Doyle opted for a 40-day jail sentence so as not to limit her options for participating in direct action after she is released.

Upon the completion of their trials, both activists filed formal complaints against the Calvert County sheriff's office for their treatment during their arrests – both the dangerous way in which they were removed from the crane and other abuses. Those complaints were dismissed and the women were then slapped with an additional charge: making a false statement to police. Heather Doyle is now pursuing the case in court. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus, who has been active in opposing the Cove Point LNG terminal, spoke with Doyle as she awaited trial on the new charge. Here, she describes the mistreatment suffered, why she believes activists should challenge police charges in court and what she hopes to accomplish in this case.

HEATHER DOYLE: There was one sheriff who had been up there with me previously, and then there were two other officers who held both of my arms back, one arm each. And the other sheriff was standing over top of me and he pressed his forearm into my throat, right into my larynx. And he did that for what felt like a really long time, and then he let off and then he stared at me and he pushed his forearm back into my throat for a shorter period of time. After he did all these things – and I wasn’t resisting at all; I was being held down by two very large men, and I’m a pretty small person, and I wasn’t struggling at all – after the sheriff choked me he lifted up his boot and he placed the bottom of his boot into my chest, right into my rib cage, and started pressing down really hard, right onto my sternum, and I felt like I was being crushed. And then he eventually let off and he said, “Oh, I just tripped or I misplaced my foot when I was stepping over you.”

We filed formal complaints – both me and the other activist – about our mistreatment by the sheriffs, so those formal complaints were lodged with the Calvert County Sheriff’s office. Because what happened to me included an assault by one of the sheriffs. My report was a brutality complaint, and then the other person’s complaint was just more generally how they risked her life at the top of the crane.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So what happened after you filed your complaints?

HEATHER DOYLE: They have charged us with a new crime, so they’ve charged us under a misdemeanor statute that is just “false statement to a police officer.” So, not only did they investigate our complaint and find no merit for it, but they turned around and also filed these new charges against us, and that was in the beginning of July.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You’re going back to court in January, and you’re not sure when your trial will be. Why are you taking this case to trial, when so many activists when they are arrested just pay a fine or plead to a lower charge and don’t go through the court process, which is a real hassle, not to mention, expensive?

HEATHER DOYLE: Specifically with this charge, we see this as an intimidation tactic designed to stop people who are opposing the Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility, which is still deeply in the process of being built and endangering the 20,000 people who live in Lusby. That feels extremely important to me, that this is a continuation of this fight, and as folks who are active in resisting extraction industries and these big corporations that have bought a lot of power and influence in Calvert County, we need to keep standing up to that, because it’s just about retaliation and trying to shut us down to keep us from continuing the fights. And then just specifically, in terms of why I fight this charge – because I didn’t lie about what happened; I was assaulted by the Calvert County sheriff during this action.

BETWEEN THE LINES: A lot of activists trying to stop Dominion’s construction at Cove Point point out that some Calvert County sheriffs wear two hats – they work for the county and they are also paid to do security for Dominion. And you and other activists say that’s a conflict of interest. Are you going to use your trial to expose some of this conflict?

HEATHER DOYLE: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. The sheriffs have an interest in trying to neutralize people who are trying to stop this Dominion export facility from being built, because the county has a security services agreement with Dominion, and Dominion is paying Calvert County $1.24 million a year to provide them with security. Additionally, a lot of the Calvert County sheriffs are working as contracted security officers for the project, so the lines are really blurred here. They have a personal and a financial interest in this facility coming online, so we’re hoping in the course of this trial it will become apparent that the reason that I’ve been charged and I’m being put through this whole new process is because the Calvert County sheriff’s office has decided to spend a whole lot of their time and effort building a case against me, and it’s almost like there’s a large corporation that’s paying them a lot of money to try to get an activist however they can.

For more information visit Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction (SEED)at seedcoalition.wordpress.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/seedcoalition; To donate funds needed for Heather Doyle and Carling Sothoron's legal expenses, visit youcaring.com/seed-coalition-members-carling-sothoron-and-heather-doyle-431727.

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