October 21, 2009

Port protesters head to trial - ‘Women’s action’: Eight members of anti-war group didn’t take plea deals on misdemeanor charges

JEREMY PAWLOSKI; The Olympian | • Published October 20, 2009

OLYMPIA – Eight members of an Olympia anti-war group who were arrested during protests Nov. 13 at the Port of Olympia are scheduled to go to trial the week of Nov. 30, a prosecutor said Monday.

The other 18 people who were charged with misdemeanor attempted disorderly conduct and gross misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement officer for their alleged actions at the port on Nov. 13 have all entered into plea deals.

The plea deals allow each defendant’s criminal charges to be dismissed, provided that they stay out of trouble for a specified length of time and pay a $150 fine, said Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jim Powers.

Powers has said that the same deal has been offered to all of 26 of the protesters who were charged over their alleged participation in the Nov. 13 action at the port.

The anti-war protesters were arrested Nov. 13 in what is known as the “women’s action” at the port. The action consisted of a group engaging in a sit-in outside one of the gates where the Stryker convoys had been exiting the port.

For about a week in November 2007, anti-war protesters blocked shipments of Stryker vehicles and other military cargo from the Port of Olympia to Fort Lewis. The military equipment had been used in the Iraq War.

Powers identified those arrested Nov. 13 who have pending misdemeanor cases as: Madison Johnson, Jennifer Richards, Julianne Panagacos, Emily Cox, Kimberly Chaplin, Patricia Imani, Michelle Fleming and Stephanie Snyder.


During a pre-trial hearing Monday morning, Larry Hildes, a defense attorney for some of the remaining defendants, along with three women who are representing themselves in court to fight their misdemeanor charges, argued that the criminal charges against them should be dismissed because of the prosecution’s failure to comply with discovery requests.

Several defendants took advantage of Powers’ plea offer immediately after Monday morning’s hearing.

Part of Hildes’ discovery requests had asked for all of the Olympia Police Department’s contingency plans for dealing with the protests, and what advance information the police department had on what was going to occur during the protests, Hildes said.

Hildes said that he became aware that the prosecution was not complying with the discovery requests only after receiving responses to public records requests that had been sent to the city of Olympia. The city’s response showed that a member of Fort Lewis Force Protection, Thomas Rudd, was sending the Olympia Police Department detailed “threat assessments” in the run up to and during the 2007 port protests. These “threat assessments” detailed intelligence about what the Army thought the protesters might or might not do.

Hildes said Monday that he thinks the intelligence detailed in the threat assessments was obtained by John Towery, a man who has been accused of spying on Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, the anti-war group that engaged in the protests.

Fort Lewis has stated it is conducting an inquiry into the allegations that Towery spied on the group under an assumed name. Towery has been identified by Fort Lewis as a civilian employee of Fort Lewis Force Protection.

Fort Lewis Force Protection supports “law enforcement and security operations to ensure the safety and security of Fort Lewis, soldiers, family members, the workforce and those personnel accessing the installation,” Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek has stated in an e-mail.

Military law experts, including Yale Law School lecturer Eugene Fidell, have said that a civilian Fort Lewis employee spying on an anti-war group appears to violate the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law that prohibits the use of the Army for conventional law enforcement actions against civilians.

Hildes added that the spying violated the protesters’ First Amendment and other Constitutionally-protected rights.

“It has to be penalized,” Hildes said during Monday’s hearing.


Olympia Police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad has said in a prior interview that the threat assessments e-mailed to him by Fort Lewis prior and during the 2007 port protests had no impact on how police dealt with the protests. “I just read them and deleted them,” Bjornstad said in September. “Nothing I read in any of those changed our approach to anything.”

In response to Hildes’ allegations about the prosecution not complying with discovery requests, Powers argued that the communications by Fort Lewis to OPD in e-mails do not constitute “contingency plans” for the police department, because they were not written by the police department but by Rudd, a member of Fort Lewis Force Protection.

“There is no such plan,” Powers said.

Powers also argued that any of the issues about what Towery did or did not do, and whether he spied on the protesters is not germane to the issue of whether the protesters’ actions were in violation of criminal law.

“What’s at issue is whether these people committed the crimes alleged,” Powers said.

Thurston County District Judge Sam Meyer agreed with Powers, and during Monday’s hearing, he refused to dismiss the remaining cases based on Hildes’ motions for failure to comply with his discovery requests. Meyer said that the issue of whether the government was spying on the protesters is an important, substantive issue, but it “isn’t relevant to the activities that were going on on Nov. 13.”

One of the protesters who still faces misdemeanor charges, Patricia Imani, said the judge’s ruling was disappointing, but not unexpected. Imani stated that she had no intention of blocking Stryker vehicles on the night of Nov. 13, and no Stryker convoys exited the gate where the women’s action was occurring that evening. She added that her actions that evening were part of a legal demonstration protected by her First Amendment rights.

-thanks to the Olympian

No comments: