Heather Doyle was found guilty today of supposedly filing a false statement after she was assaulted by Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Vladimir Bortchevsky during a February 3, 2015, action on a Dominion Cove Point construction site.
On that date, Heather and another activist with Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction (SEED) climbed a crane on a site being used for the construction of a massive fracked gas export terminal in the community of Cove Point, Maryland. They hung a banner from the top of the crane that read “Dominion, go home. No gas exports. Don’t frack Maryland. Save Cove Point.” The climbers’ lives were jeopardized when law enforcement officers tried to remove them from the crane in an unsafe way — an allegation that the state’s attorney didn’t challenge in court. The complaint Heather filed that is central to this case stems from her being assaulted during the extraction by a 6’4”, 285 lb. cop while surrounded by numerous officers, Dominion employees, and contractors.
A statement about the assault and endangerment was released after the court process from that action ended, in order to not incriminate the defendants when they had open legal cases. Soon after, elected Calvert County Sheriff Mike Evans, a local journalist, and others encouraged Heather and the other activist to file official complaints with the Sheriff’s Office about their experience. The other activist filed a complaint about the police endagerment, received a false statement charge, and pled out to a plea agreement in November, putting her charge on an inactive docket.
Heather rejected a plea in early May that would have required her to apologize to Sgt. Vladimir Bortchevsky (the cop who assaulted her) and Dfc. Robert “Bubba” Brady (the first officer to climb onto the crane). Brady’s actions created an unsafe environment for the climbers, and he was complicit in the assault. In exchange for the twisted request that she apologize to her assaulters, Heather’s case would have been placed on an inactive docket, from which it could be made active again whenever the state wanted. Heather chose to go to trial instead.
Approximately 20 supporters gathered in the courtroom each day, including both of Heather’s parents, friends from as far away as Oakland, and numerous Calvert residents who would be impacted by Dominion’s export terminal if it’s allowed to become operational.
Most of May 24 was taken up by jury selection at the Calvert County Circuit Court in Prince Frederick, Maryland. A court official remarked they had only seen jury selection go as long once or twice in their entire career at that court house. There were numerous questions to prospective jurors about their relationships to Dominion, the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, and other entities that would give them a hard time rendering an unbiased verdict. Many jurors with obvious conflicts were excused, but those making it onto the final jury included a juror who grew up with and took martial arts classes with the captain of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Special Operations Team, as well as others who had police or Dominion contractors in their household or families.
Following jury selection, opening statements were made, and the prosecution began its case toward the end of the day. The prosecution continued its case all day May 25. The defense finally started its case early on May 26, after four witnesses were no longer going to be called because of a time crunch based on a scheduled police raid. However, one of those witnesses, Captain Ricky Thomas of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Team, who supposedly couldn’t testify because he needed to leave for that raid at 11:30 was seen in the court house at noon, and was in the court room soon after and for much of the afternoon. Toward the end of the defense’s case, the judge sided with the state that the defense’s expert ropes witness couldn’t take the stand, since the state no longer argued that allegations of endangerment at the hands of the police were unfounded.
The last defense witness was Heather. She spoke eloquently and emotionally about her experiences on February 3 and afterward, and about why she did what when. During the state’s cross examination, the lead prosecutor kept trying to put words in Heather’s mouth, saying Heather wanted publicity by any means necessary and asserting that Heather didn’t get the media attention she wanted after the February 3 action — that her statements about the assault and endangerment were merely to get extra attention. Following closing arguments, the jury deliberated for around two hours before going home for the night. This morning, after two more hours of deliberation and a handful of questions to the judge, the jury finally reached a unanimous verdict at 11:12 a.m.
Before sentencing, Heather’s dad spoke to the court about how proud he was of her, and numerous Cove Point residents submitted letters to the judge to comment on her character and how much they value what she’s done for them and their community. Heather also gave her own statement to the court.
“I’m ready to move on with my life. I’m just glad this is over,” Heather said in a statement written in anticipation of her possible incarceration. “I feel deeply concerned about people who are living here under constant threat of harassment and intimidation for publicly opposing this project that threatens the health of their community and their lives.”
The judge sentenced Heather to three months in jail, all but 15 days suspended; 240 hours of community service; court costs; and two years of supervised probation. She was taken into custody in the court room.
“It’s only been a couple of years since we learned the real meaning behind Dominion’s misleading word: ‘expansion,’” said Cove Point resident Leslie Garcia. “My peaceful bayside community is disappearing. Residents have been pulled over by police for ‘harassing’ suspicious-looking Dominion employees hanging out in the neighborhood. The real charges? We object to the unexamined health and safety risks that the LNG refinery and export plant exposes us all to. Police protection has been bought by Dominion. Even this trial was referred to as ‘the Dominion trial’ by the beefed-up security at the entrance to this court house. It is a hollow and bitter consolation to know that these cops are promoting the same irreparable harm to their own families.”
“As a 58-year old woman, I feel an anxiety and tension that I’ve never felt before, all attributed to the construction of the Dominion Cove Point facility and the role that Dominion has come to play in this community,” added Lili Sheeline, of Port Republic, Maryland. “The company’s influence is palpable everywhere, from schools to libraries to county government — and especially to county law enforcement. Specifically, the role that the Special Operations Team plays in ‘policing’ our society is, frankly, scary to me. Twice, I’ve been treated in what I considered to be a surprisingly threatening way by Special Operations, who do the bidding of both the county and Dominion. I grew up believing, perhaps naively, that most members of law enforcement, by and large, are respectful of citizens and of our rights. In general, I have returned that respect. What I find now in southern Calvert County is very different. My biggest fear is that we, the public, have lost any right to ask questions.”
Heather’s been clear for the duration of this ordeal that her experiences with the legal system would look very different if she was a person of color or had other attributes that would cause bias to a predominantly white, middle class judge and jury. Even though the last year of Heather’s life has been a difficult one — and she’s currently behind bars — it’s still important to her to make the point that police, the judicial system and society at large treats her better than it would many others who are caught up in similar situations.
To support Heather while she’s locked up, donate jail funds at https://seedcoalition.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/74/.
Please write to her at:
Heather G. Doyle
Calvert County Detention Center
PO Box 9
Barstow, MD 20610
More guidelines for sending mail are at http://www.co.cal.md.us/index.aspx?NID=289. Note: The jail is very strict about what mail it will or won’t admit.