Calvert Prosecutor Not Proceeding With Charge Against Carling Sothoron

PRINCE FREDERICK, MD — Monday, charges for a false statement to an officer were placed on an inactive docket for a Baltimore educator and activist associated with SEED (Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction). Carling Sothoron filed a complaint with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) in May stating that officers had created unsafe conditions during her arrest at a protest on Dominion property earlier this year.

Sothoron was one of two activists protesting Dominion’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project at Cove Point, Maryland, on February 3 when she hung a banner reading “Dominion Get Out” from a crane at a construction site for the terminal. During her removal, a Calvert County Sheriff’s Officer dangerously pulled on the rope from which she was suspended. Another officer climbed the crane without proper safety equipment or climb training, putting the safety of both himself and Sothoron at risk. The Sheriff’s Office decided to press charges against Sothoron for filing a complaint about the incidents.

“These charges are part of a pattern of intimidation against people opposed to Dominion’s fracked gas refinery [and] LNG export facility. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office is complicit with Dominion,” said Tracey Eno, a Cove Point resident and member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community.

The other activist involved in the same protest, Heather Doyle, has also been charged with making a false statement to an officer after she filed a complaint regarding physical assault that she experienced during her arrest. Her trial is set for mid-January.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that Dominion has so much sway over my county that people can improperly face multiple charges for the same thing just because Dominion wants to try to silence dissent. These two already went through the legal system for their action against Dominion. These extra charges are being brought purely to send a message to not get in Dominion’s way of its profits,” said Donny Williams, a Lusby resident and member of We Are Cove Point.

In 2015, Dominion paid $1.24 million dollars to Calvert County’s public safety fund, which is 40 percent of the annual revenue for the Sheriff’s Office. Dominion also has contracts with 10 CCSO officers to act as private security for its project. It is clear that the state’s attorney and CCSO are being pressured by Dominion to pursue these charges against the fracking protesters.

“I’m not surprised that this is the kind of lengths that they would go to discredit people who are working to protect this community. It’s actually a testament to the fact that the tactics that people are taking on the ground against natural gas infrastructure are working. We only see this kind of pressure on activists when the industry is threatened, and I think that’s a sign that what we’re doing is being effective,” said Whitney Whiting of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

Please continue to support both Carling and Heather’s fight against their charges by going to SEED’s legal support page.

About SEED: SEED is a group based in the mid-Atlantic working against energy projects, including LNG exports, fracking, compressor stations, gas pipelines and coal exports, which are harming residents in the region. SEED has been organizing to stop the Cove Point LNG export facility and to support the residents who are being impacted by this project.

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Activists were assaulted and put in danger by Calvert County Sheriff’s Office during February action at Dominion site

UPDATE: This article is re-posted from April 21, the day after Heather Doyle and Carling Sothoron pled guilty to trespassing in relation to this action they took to protect people who would be harmed by an operational LNG export terminal at Cove Point.

Since this article was published, both Heather and Carling filed complaints against the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office about what is described below. The accused police have denied wrongdoing, and the police have since filed charges against Heather and Carling for filing a false statement. Carling’s trial is this Monday, November 23. Heather’s trial will be in early 2016. Both are facing massive legal costs to defend themselves against this obvious attempt to silence dissent against Dominion and its export terminal.

A fundraising page has been launched at https://www.youcaring.com/seed-coalition-members-carling-sothoron-and-heather-doyle-431727. Please spread this around and donate what you can. As a core member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community said last night about the need to for each of us to support Heather and Carling, “We’re all in this together.”

solidarity

On the early morning of February 3, 2015, Heather Doyle and Carling Sothoron, two activists with Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction (SEED), climbed a crane at Dominion’s construction area known as “Offsite A” in Lusby, Maryland, and hung a large banner from the top that read, “Dominion, get out. Don’t frack Maryland. No gas exports. Save Cove Point.”

They took this action to support the people whose lives would be put at risk with the completion of the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal and liquefaction plant, and also to support people across the Marcellus shale who have been living with the ravages of fracking.

On April 20, they both entered guilty pleas to a single trespassing charge each. Doyle is currently serving 39 days in jail, while Sothoron had a 40-day jail sentence suspended along with three years of probation and fines.

An important side of the story has not been told in order to not incriminate Doyle or Sothoron before their court appearances. Doyle was violently assaulted by Sergeant Vladimir Bortchevsky, and put at risk of major harm by Dfc. Robert Brady and others. Sothoron experienced a woefully amateur and potentially lethal response to her presence on the crane by the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Team, most directly by Dfc. Stephen Esposito. Officers Brady and Esposito were given a “Team Excellence” award on April 7, but in truth, the Sheriff’s Office was unprofessional, unsafe, unprepared and violent that day.

When the first police arrived on the scene, Sothoron was most of the way up the arm of the crane, being safely belayed by Doyle, who was at the base of the arm, about 15 feet above the ground.

Doyle’s account:

I stayed at the base of the crane. The climber was using a lead climbing technique, and I was the belay person. It was my job to keep that climber safe in case they fell. I was also attached to the crane safely and held in by ropes, and I was sitting in a harness the whole time. So, I was completely secured and safe in my position on the crane. And all of our equipment was also secured to the crane, so there was no chance of anything falling anywhere.

When the police arrived on the scene, the other climber was a lot farther up the crane. They came up behind where I was kneeling on the crane. I told them we were there for a nonviolent peaceful protest and that I was the climber’s belay person and that her safety was up to me. I also informed [Dfc. Brady] that I had extensive experience climbing and that I knew what I was doing, and that we wanted to keep everyone as safe as possible.

He asked me if I was secured to the crane, and I said that I was safe. He then started to reach over, and he wasn’t tied into anything at that point. He wasn’t wearing a harness or anything like that. He reached over into the bag of the excess rope that I was feeding out toward the climber, and I told him that he needed to not touch the rope. I tried to pull the rope away with my free hand, and then he pulled the bag of rope back from me. He then took all of the rope out of the bag. Meanwhile, I was focused on keeping the climber safe and belaying her. He just wrapped the excess rope haphazardly around another beam above and behind me. There was no rhyme or reason to it. He wrapped it around several times and didn’t secure it in any way. This wasn’t a correct anchor, and I told him that that wasn’t any recognizable anchor. I also told him that, the way he had affixed the rope, I couldn’t put my brake arm down, and it’s necessary for me to keep my brake arm down to be able to keep the climber safe. I told him he was endangering her. I kept telling him this over a period of several minutes.

He eventually, I believe, realized that he didn’t know what he was doing, and then at that point, he undid the rope. He was like, “I’m going to undo the rope so that you can put your brake arm down and belay the climber.”

I also told him that, without the excess rope, the rope that he had attached to the beam, it had prevented me from feeding the rope up to the climber, so that if she wanted to descend out of the crane, that she wouldn’t be able to actually do that.

He said, “We’ll bring her back down the same way she came up,” and I said that wouldn’t be a safe way to do that. I said that she was an experienced climber, and it’d be safer for her to have the rope so that she could descend out of the crane.

At that point, he undid the rope — not because he was going to let me feed the rope to her, because I couldn’t communicate with her and also because he wasn’t going to let her do that — but he acknowledged that I had to bring my brake arm down to safely perform the belay.

When he undid the rope, I felt very unsafe, because I felt that he hadn’t taken proper steps when he had come up to keep everyone safe. I didn’t believe that he understood anything about the system that was there, and my expectation in actions like this is that they call … They wait for people to … You know, “Do no harm” first. You don’t touch things that you don’t know about, and wait for people to arrive who have skills to be able to properly assess and make safe choices in that situation.

When he undid the rope, I started to walk out farther onto the beams of the crane because I wanted to put space between him and me because I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t trust him to not mess with my safety equipment. I started to walk out onto the crane a little bit, and I took the rope out of my belay device because I felt like, at that point, it wasn’t unsafe for the rope to be out of my belay device. I felt like it would potentially make me safer to not have the rope attached to me. The rope that was being fed to the climber was not my safety. I had additional ropes that were affixing me to the crane. When I moved out, farther away, because I was afraid for my own safety, that’s when several other cops had arrived. I believe it was another Calvert County sheriff and two state troopers, and they started to tug on me. At that point, I was standing up, and there was a lot of slack in my cowtails and my rope system that created my safeties, and I was scared that they were going to pull me across the arm of the crane. At this point, I would say I was about 15 feet up off the ground. So, there was a lot of space that I could fall into. I was also aware that the cops weren’t wearing any sort of climbing equipment. They were just up there on their own without any regard or consideration for securing themselves to the crane.

I was standing up, and there was a lot of slack in my system. The ropes that I was using as my safeties aren’t designed to take a shock load. They’re static ropes, and they’re not designed for someone to take a fall. I was worried as the cops were pulling me back that they were going to cause me to fall and cause me to shock load my system, which can result in a lot of injury or potentially rope failure in extreme cases. I was very scared for my safety at that point and felt like the situation was being handled really haphazardly. They were trying to move quickly, as opposed to safely.

As they pulled me across, because I was being pulled by three large men, I tried to sit down into my rope system as much as I could, which I think angered the cops because it appeared that I was being non-compliant. They eventually pulled me across while I was trying to sit down into my system. When they got me back over to the beginning of the arm where they were able to somewhat stand and balance themselves, they turned me around and sort of splayed me out against the base of the crane. One of the state troopers each held my arms down sort of behind me. The cop who had first been on the scene with me was holding the rope that was attached to the other climber. And this other Calvert County Sheriff [Sergeant Vladimir Bortchevsky] stood in front of me, overtop of me. I was completely pinned down at this point [with her arms and legs fully extended from her body] and not struggling. I wasn’t trying to get away. But he stood overtop of me, and he put his forearm into my throat and started to press down into my larynx.

It was a lot of pressure. I could still make noise, so I wasn’t being completely strangled, but I was having a hard time breathing, and I was very scared. I was trying to tell him that I was having a hard time breathing, and he kept the pressure on my throat for about 20 seconds, and then he let off. He stared at me, and then he pushed his forearm back into my throat for about another 15 seconds. I was very scared at this point. I was surrounded by cops watching this other cop do something to me. There was no one who could see what was happening to me, and I was all alone at the bottom of the crane. He was assaulting me because he wanted to.

I felt like I didn’t know what to expect next, and it was pretty frightening. After he let off my throat the second time, he lifted up his boot, and he put the whole sole of his foot pressing down into my sternum. He was putting a lot of pressure into my ribcage and just pressing down really hard. It felt like he was trying to crush my chest. Then, he put his foot down and said, “Oh, I’m just trying to step over you here,” and was sort of smirking and smiling about what he had just done to me.

After that, they wanted to lift me up and over to get me to the other side and to bring me down off the crane, because they wanted me to be “safe.” They undid my ropes that were securing me to the base of the crane — although it took them a really long time to do it, because they didn’t know how to open the carabiners. They were just holding me down for a while while they were figuring out how to operate some pretty basic and essential climbing equipment. That also scared me, because it appeared that they didn’t know what they were handling.

After they finally did that, where they unsecured me from the crane, they passed me over the top while they were tugging on my jacket, they then were like, “Hold up, we’re going to make sure you’re ‘safe’ as you’re coming down,” which meant that they took my five-foot-long-each cowtails with carabiners at the end and attached the carabiners together, which is metal-to-metal, which you’re really not supposed to do ever in this climbing technique and then put it around a really tiny cable guide wire that was going up the crane arm so that I would be “secure.” Well, there’s a lot of issues with that. For one thing, the cable is at an angle. So, if I had fallen as they tried to pull me down, I would have slid down and slammed into the cab of the crane. I also could have taken a five-foot fall [before she was caught by the cowtails] and probably seriously injured myself because there was so much slack in the system. That’s not how you secure yourself at all to that equipment.

They were trying to pull me across and I was yelling that it was unsafe, that they didn’t know what they were doing, that this was not an appropriate way to secure me. I was yelling, “It’s unsafe, it’s unsafe, it’s unsafe! Let me just crawl down this other way.” They said they would, and I tried to crawl down, but they were still pulling me the whole time. So, I didn’t feel like I had any control to maneuver myself safely down the crane.

At that same point, the first officer [Brady] who had appeared on the scene and had previously wrapped the rope on the beam started pulling on the rope that was connected to the climber at the top of the crane. I said, “Stop doing that. That’s unsafe. You’re going to pull her down the crane.” He continued to ignore me. He didn’t seem like he paid any attention to what I was saying, but he had no visual on her.

He had no idea what the situation was up at the top of the crane, but he still was just pulling on her rope haphazardly. He could have caused her serious injury that way.

After I was taken down off the crane and was down on the ground, next to a muddy area, they started to take off my climbing equipment. I asked them to wait for a female officer, but they didn’t listen to me. A lot of male cops had their hands all over my lower torso and were taking off my harness. They wouldn’t allow me to take it off, which was also really difficult for me to experience. There was no female cop on scene to take me away, so they made me sit on the ground in the mud for a while. All the while, there were people making comments, saying things like, “Well, you can sit here at the bottom of the crane and watch your friend fall out of this crane.”

At no point did I see any sort of fire or emergency personnel on scene. One thing I know from personal experience and from other folks who have done these sorts of actions is that typically firefighters are the folks who are trained to perform high-angle rope rescue and also to deal with rescue situations like this, but I never saw any fire personnel on scene. It appeared to me with the Calvert County Sheriffs that I encountered that none of them had any sort of familiarity with the rope techniques that we’re using and did not demonstrate any understanding of the equipment that we were using.

What I experienced during my arrest in this action was a complete lack of regard for our safety. I also experienced an assault by law enforcement who are supposed to be protecting citizens in the community. I felt like they were acting very hasty and just wanted to demonstrate their control over a situation that they didn’t understand. I would have expected them to bring in emergency personnel who were trained to extract people in this situation. It felt like they were just trying to work with Dominion to resolve the situation according to their own terms and not in terms of safety. I experienced violence against my person, and I felt very unsafe interacting with the cops despite trying to communicate and do my due diligence to try to resolve the situation safely.

Sothoron’s account:

I was able to hear Heather through a phone earpiece, and I could tell right away that the interactions between the cop and Heather were not going very well — that he was being really intense and disrespectful to her, and really rough.

Heather was my belayer, which means that the rope that was attached to my harness was being managed by her. So, if that rope got pulled, then I would get pulled down with it. Pretty quickly, the cop took control of that rope, which felt really unsafe for me. I could tell Heather felt uncomfortable with what he was doing. I tied off my end of the line to the structure of the crane as quick as I could.

Having someone on the other end of the rope pulling on my rope who shouldn’t have been pulling on my rope made me feel really uncomfortable. It also made me question whether the cop had any idea of what he was doing.

That rope that I was attached to was my safety line. That was my way to get down off of the crane. Knowing that I didn’t have that option any more, I had to figure out a new plan.

Eventually, one of the Special Operations Team members, Steve Esposito, got chosen to be the guy to climb the crane. He climbed the crane a lot differently than I had. He decided to climb the top part of the crane, along which there were two cables running down the top part, so he attached himself to the cables and climbed up that way. I don’t even remember him having any rope.

He got to the point where I was and was standing above where I was. He immediately told me to get off the crane, knowing my way to get down had been compromised. He said I could come down on my own or come down with him. At that point, I looked at the equipment that he had carried up with him.

I’ve been climbing for quite a while now and have a lot of experience in technical climbing and have been training others in climbing, as well. And so, from my knowledge of climbing and rescuing, Officer Esposito was not prepared to bring me down off of that crane. He had very little equipment, and unless I was going to go for a piggy-back ride on him, that was not happening.

I asked him numerous times through our interactions on the crane if he could contact other officers at the bottom or whoever his supervisor is and ask if they can untie my rope so that I could come down on my own, which was the way that I felt the most safe doing, and he refused to even address that question. At one point, he informed somebody on the radio that that was my request, but the only answer was silence.

One of the important things that I think there is to mention is that Officer Esposito never once checked my safety while I was on the crane. In the report that was written, one of the first things mentioned is that Officer Esposito climbed the crane to make sure I was safe. That actually never happened. He never asked me what my systems were, how I was attached to the crane, if I had options of coming down on my own, and if I did, what those options were. And he never informed me as to how he was going to get me off the crane or how the other officers who were there were planning on getting me off the crane. I spent a lot of time just wondering what was going to happen next.

I was attached to the crane in a couple of ways. I had two lanyards with carabiner connections that I lashed onto two different beams on the crane, and I also had the line that I climbed up on that was anchored to a different beam on the crane, and I was still attached to that line, as well. So, technically, I had three points of safety.

I did feel safe from my own systems and my own setup. I felt good about where I was at on the crane. I didn’t feel like I needed another person to check, but I know that that’s what their role is to do, is to go up and see what my systems are. I feel like their job is to make safety a priority, and at no point did I feel like they did that.

Officer Esposito was connected to one of two cables that run from the top of the crane down to the bottom. It was hard from my angle, being at the bottom of the square of the crane, to know what his equipment setup was, but from what I could see, he was just attached by carabiners to the cable. I don’t know if he had some other apparatus that allowed him to squeeze the cable when he stopped, because if he didn’t, if he slipped or wasn’t hanging onto something, he would just slide all the way back down. That’s to say, I question his capacity to be rescuing me or to be assessing the situation of how things were at the top of the crane.

After a while, it felt like 30 minutes or maybe closer to an hour, I still was never informed as to what was going on to bring me down, but all of a sudden, the crane started to shake side to side. A crane operator showed up to actually move the crane to bring me down, and, again, I asked Officer Esposito on numerous occasions what the plan was. He said he didn’t have to tell me.

When the crane started to shake, I actually almost fell off of the seat where I was sitting. I was still attached to the crane, so I would have been fine, but that shaking made me really nervous. I also was under the impression that they wouldn’t be allowed to move the crane. I don’t even know if that’s legal for them to operate a crane while somebody is attached to it who’s not a worker.

The crane moved back and forth on numerous occasions for maybe 20 minutes. It would move a little bit and then take a break, and then move back and forth a little bit and then take a break. We were just getting shaked back and forth. I was able to hold onto a beam on the crane, so I felt OK, but Officer Esposito, who was on top of the crane and was actually mostly standing straight up most of the time and didn’t have a lot to hold on to, looked very nervous and uncomfortable. I actually felt worried for him, because he didn’t seem like he was in a very safe position for a crane to be moving.

Once it started moving back and forth, which it seemed to me like maybe they were warming up the crane or something, then eventually, they moved it all the way to the side and then lowered it. This whole process took quite a while, but I was brought down that way, and then all of my equipment was removed and I was arrested.

In the report, there’s a section that has Esposito quoting me, saying, “It’s not going to stop. It’s only the beginning.” I don’t feel like it’s that big of a deal that that quote is in the report, but the quote is very inaccurate. I never said anything to that effect. I think it’s just interesting how Officer Esposito created his own analysis of what was happening and what I was saying and why I was there, based off of barely any dialogue that he and I had.

Spending a couple hours on top of the crane, I was able to witness what was happening on the ground. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see that anything special was brought in for a rescue. It didn’t seem like there was any alternative than lowering the crane itself. There was no fire truck that was ever brought in. Even once I was on the ground, I didn’t see anyone else in climbing equipment. It just seemed like they came up with one option, and that’s the way that they were going to try it.

With my climbing experience, I felt very qualified to do what I needed to do while I was on the crane. Unfortunately, the interference of the cops, I think, compromised that. I don’t think their interactions with Heather or I helped create a more safe environment. I think they actually did the opposite. By tying off my rope, that prevented me from getting down the way that I was prepared to get down, and it didn’t really leave me with any other option. Also, the cops weren’t informing me of what my other option was. They weren’t letting me know what they were prepared to do to get me down. So, I spent a lot of time just worrying about what that was going to look like. Unfortunately, then, I had to completely trust them in getting me down. I wasn’t able to rely on my own experience and skills to get myself down from the crane because they had prevented me from doing that by tying off my rope.

The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly turned away participation by the fire department and other outside help during the protests against Dominion’s plans for Cove Point. The Special Operations Team, lead by Captain Ricky Thomas, seems to see itself as the go-to troupe, trained and prepared for any situation.

The Calvert County government, whether it’s been the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) or the police, has sworn again and again that it is prepared for any emergency related to the Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility that is under construction. But if it can’t handle two people climbing on a crane without assaulting them and putting their lives in danger, how are we supposed to trust that it can capably respond to a gas explosion in a residential area with no escape route? Mickey Shymansky, the former assistant fire chief of operations for the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department, stepped down last year after saying the county was unprepared to deal with an emergency at Cove Point. Many other County employees have been issued gag orders that prevent them from talking about the Dominion project, much less voicing their concerns. The BOCC has even blocked a safety study from taking place that would take a very simple and important first-step to determine what the risks are that need to be responded to.

It’s clear that we aren’t able to trust those who are supposed to protect public health and safety. It’s time we’re honest about that.

Support Needed for Cove Point Defenders

Carling and Heather
Carling and Heather

Know the story already and want to donate now? Here’s the fundraising site!

Earlier this year, Carling Sothoron and Heather Doyle, two activists associated with SEED (Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction), took action to support people living in Cove Point, along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland, Piscataway territory. This small, rural community is being threatened by Dominion, a large energy company that is building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility to send gas produced by hydraulic fracturing along the Marcellus Shale for consumption across the globe. Carling and Heather wanted to draw attention to the issues of dangerous LNG exports, potential hydraulic fracturing in Western Maryland, and the likely catastrophic and chronic health effects of this facility on the people of Cove Point. They climbed onto a crane during a chilly morning in February on one of the export terminal’s construction sites and completed a successful crane sit and banner drop in protest of Dominion’s plans and against the extractive fracked gas industry that is impacting rural communities across the mid-Atlantic. During the extraction and arrest, both Carling and Heather, who are expert climbers, experienced an unsafe extraction by the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office and Heather was assaulted during her arrest.

Both activists pled guilty to misdemeanor trespass charges in April. Carling is serving a three-year probation and was ordered to pay a $500 fine. Heather served a 40-day sentence in the Calvert County Detention Center. After their legal proceedings were concluded, Carling and Heather filed formal complaints with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office about their mistreatment by the Calvert County officers. The Sheriff’s Office has responded to the complaints by charging both Carling and Heather with misdemeanor false statement to an officer. The sentencing guidelines for this new charge recommends a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. In the next few months, both Carling and Heather are preparing to go to trial to defend themselves against this attempt by the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office to silence activists and retaliate against people who are resisting the construction of this Dominion LNG export facility.
These new charges are a part of a larger pattern of intimidation and excessive force against people protesting Dominion’s plans for Cove Point. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office is being paid by Dominion to act as a private security force and to suppress opposition of the project within Calvert County. Some of their tactics include extremely long probationary periods for people who were otherwise willing to serve jail sentences and harassment including suspicious vehicle searches for people commuting to peaceful protests. The Calvert County Sheriffs in their official duties and separately as contracted security officers for the corporation, are doing Dominion’s dirty work in suppressing people willing to put themselves on the line to defend the community of Cove Point.

Carling and Heather acknowledge that the police violence they experienced was a direct result of the intentional political protest they were involved in and understand that their experience with the criminal justice system does not reflect how Black, Brown, and poor folks are treated by the justice system in Calvert County and throughout the US. They recognize that their ability to challenge the charges against them is greatly influenced by their privileges and the resources and support they have and will continue to receive.

SEED believes it is extremely important to stand up to these ugly tactics designed to distract us, exhaust our resources and our resolve, and that is why we are asking for your support. By fighting these charges we are committing to supporting the impacted community of Cove Point and to challenging the way the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office has responded to activists. We won’t back down. This work takes money, which is why we need your help. SEED fundraises for anticipated legal fees associated with our actions but these charges require additional resources.

We are immensely grateful for any amount you can give! Please share our story and amplify our message. If you can support this effort in a non-monetary way (such as hosting a fundraising event), please be in touch. Alternatively, if you are interested, in exchange for donations, SEED also would be happy to offer workshops about direct action or the fight at Cove Point. Have an idea for how we can work together? Contact us!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Here’s the fundraising site again!

BREAKING: Activists Hanging from Stadium to Protest Bank of America

Activists Suspended From Upper Deck of Stadium During Monday Night Football to Protest Bank of America Financing of LNG Export Terminal

We Are Cove Point demands Bank of America stop financing Dominion’s Cove Point LNG export terminal and other fracked gas infrastructure

Note: This kicks off the Bank of America “Dump Dominion” campaign. Please support this effort by

  1. Donating to the bail fund here.
  2. Visiting DumpDominion.org
  3. Spreading the word!

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA — In protest of Bank of America’s role in financing the planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Cove Point, Maryland, activists from We Are Cove Point have suspended themselves from the upper deck of Bank of America Stadium during the Monday Night Football game between the Charlotte Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts. They dropped a banner that reads, “BoA: Dump Dominion, WeAreCovePoint.org,” that was seen by the stadium audience of more than 70,000 people.

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) has played a major role in financing Dominion Resources (NYSE: D) and its $3.8 billion LNG export facility at Cove Point through Dominion Midstream (NYSE: DM). Bank of America is part of a consortium of banks that is lending Dominion up to $4 billion to finance several planned gas infrastructure projects. In June 2013, Bank of America also underwrote $275 million to contribute to the capital expense of the Dominion Cove Point facility. We Are Cove Point activists are now calling on Bank of America and other lending institutions to stop financing Dominion.

Since oil and gas prices have plummeted, industry experts have increasingly seen LNG export facilities as bad investments, and the financial sector has been inexplicably propping up the gas industry. As recently as August, a report from Bank of America itself warned that plummeting crude oil prices have hurt the prospects of LNG export projects. President and CEO Zin Smati of Engie’s GDF Suez Energy North America said, “You cannot ship gas from the United States anymore. … Nobody really is making money from LNG now. Certainly, we are not.”

Dominion Cove Point is a proposed LNG export terminal that is slated to send up to 1.8 billion cubic feet of LNG to Japan and India. The facility would be the only one in the world to be built in a densely populated area, in violation of basic safety siting standards. It would drive demand for harmful fracking across the Mid-Atlantic, emit more than 20 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year, and spew two million tons of greenhouse gases, making it Maryland’s fourth-largest climate polluter. LNG exports are predicted to increase domestic gas prices, resulting in economic loss for every major sector of the US economy besides the gas industry, according to a Navigant Consulting report commissioned by Dominion Cove Point and a NERA economic consulting report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy.

As more communities organize against the encroachment of gas infrastructure, Bank of America and other lending institutions are facing increasing pressure to stop financing dirty energy projects that negatively impact the lives and well-being of those living near export terminals, pipelines, compressor stations, fracking wells and gas-fired power plants.

A broad, strong coalition of people has been actively resisting Dominion Cove Point at every step since the fall of 2013. We Are Cove Point is a leading part of the effort to stop Dominion Cove Point and reclaim the Cove Point community from Dominion’s grip.

Participants in tonight’s action made the following comments:

“Bank of America is allowing companies like Dominion to operate without checks and balances,” said John Nicholson. “They are giving money directly to Dominion with full knowledge of the health and safety risks of building an LNG export facility, and they need to be accountable to that.”

Rica Madrid said, “America doesn’t need more cheap fuel on the market, and we especially don’t need to export those resources overseas. Dominion is building a facility that would contribute to the economic crisis our country is facing. Bank of America is financing the Cove Point LNG plant, and the surrounding community in Southern Maryland is forced to bear the human cost. This is unacceptable.”

For more information, visit WeAreCovePoint.org and DumpDominion.org.

Activists Disrupt Governor McAuliffe’s Keynote Address at Energy Symposium

Abingdon, VA — Five activists disrupted Governor McAuliffe’s keynote address at the Biennial Natural Resources and Energy Law Symposium today by performing a poem written specifically for the Governor and creatively demanding that he “call off” the proposed pipelines threatening to go through Virginia. The activists were members of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, SEED: Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction, We Are Cove Point, and FANG: Fighting Against Natural Gas.

GovPlusGas
Activists block the audience’s view of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe during his keynote speech at the Biennial Natural Resources and Energy Law Symposium with a banner that reads “Gov + Gas = BFFs 4 Life!”

Taking turns with each verse, they stood on chairs and recited a poem entitled “McAuliffe Knows” (see text below). It spotlighted the hypocrisy of the Governor, primarily regarding his continued support of several natural gas pipelines proposed to devastate Virginia and the Appalachian region. The group targeted the Governor and the event itself – a “symposium” made up largely of representatives from the energy industry, government and academia, to address the “array of energy opportunities in Appalachia.”

The Governor’s keynote address was timed to occur immediately prior to a panel on “Natural Gas Pipelines,” which included a representative from Dominion Resources. On Friday, September 18, 2015, a consortium of energy companies, including Dominion Resources, formally applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 564-mile natural gas pipeline that would pass through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Another consortium, led by EQT Midstream Partners, is seeking to build the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

According to the Appalachian School of Law’s Dan Caldwell, the day-long symposium was designed to “model an atmosphere of rational debate” in order to reach common ground on laws affecting energy production in Appalachia. Tickets for the event were $50 for students and as high as $200 for anyone not a member of a government or nonprofit group.

Whitney Whiting, a community organizer with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said, “The Governor continues to tout a ‘New Virginia Economy’ based on more fracking and more gas pipelines. But there is nothing ‘new’ about an economic system based on extraction and exploitation of land, people, and natural resources. How will fracked gas traveling through Virginia in massive pipelines benefit Appalachia? It won’t. It will benefit Dominion and EQT, not Virginians, or anyone else in the Appalachian region.”

The group’s participants said they had accomplished their goal of adding an extra voice to the day’s conversation, and by sending the message to Governor McAuliffe and industry representatives that the resistance to natural gas infrastructure in Virginia is stronger than ever.

*****

McAuliffe Knows

McAuliffe knows
that climate change is real.
And when it comes to pipelines
he knows just how we feel.

He knows that fracking sucks
but he must have neglected
to tell us that he only said that
just to get elected

he promised to be a “brick wall”
for women of the state
but does he think the health of our bodies
ends with how we choose to procreate?

does he know that families are slowly dying
from methane-poisoned air and waters?
that fossil fuels like natural gas
steal futures from our sons and daughters?

doesn’t he know that there’s nothing “new”
about an economy based on extraction?
that in Appalachia of all places
the promise of jobs has zero traction?

Because we all know, even if he doesn’t
that exploitation is not the answer
when bodies are sacrificed for profit,
the only growth is rates of cancer.

McAuliffe, we are not deceived.
from you we expect nothing.
your pipedream is our nightmare
Your lack of morality disgusting.

you see nothing wrong with profiting
off of the misery of our neighbors,
in time you’ll see, this pipeline
won’t do you any favors.

Opportunities to Get Involved with the Fight against Dominion Cove Point!

Dominion Cove Point teach-in • June 23, 7 p.m.
Southern Community Center, 20 Appeal Ln., Lusby, MD

This teach-in will look at the impacts the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal and liquefaction plant would have if the construction is completed and it becomes operational. Already, residents are finding it increasingly difficult to go about their lives during the construction phase. If it goes online, people will be faced with increased health issues, continuous loud noise, light pollution, further degradation of this part of the Chesapeake Bay, and the ever-present risk of a catastrophic explosion. Further away, this project would directly enable a vast increase in fracking and natural gas infrastructure across the eastern US.

Join us to learn more about these issues and how to plug in with endeavors to stop this project from being completed. For more information, write donny@wearecovepoint.org.

Non-violent direct action training • June 27, 1-6 p.m.
Patuxent Friends Quaker Meeting, 12175 Southern Connector Blvd., Lusby, MD

The phrase “direct action gets the goods” is tried and true. This will be a general training on non-violent direct action tactics and theory, covering why direct action might be used and how it can create power. We’ll look at different tactics other campaigns have used and go through exercises to help prepare people for participation in a direct action. There are many tricks and tips to help make sure actions are as effective as they can be and produce the results we’re looking for. This training will seek to walk through all of this in an empowering and accessible manner.

For more information, write donny@wearecovepoint.org

Northeast Anti-Fracking Coalition Derails LDC Gas Forum

Activists chanting in the lobby of the Boston Marriott Copley Place on Tuesday. Photo by FANG: Fighting Against Natural Gas
Activists chanting in the lobby of the Boston Marriott Copley Place on Tuesday. Photo by FANG: Fighting Against Natural Gas

BOSTON – Activists from Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington DC, and Maine disrupted the twentieth annual LDC Gas Forum two days in a row in protest of the Algonquin Incremental Market Expansion, the Cove Point LNG Export Terminal, the Vermont Gas Pipeline, and to demand the cancellation of all new gas infrastructure projects. Supporters of FANG: Fighting Against Natural Gas, Rising Tide Vermont, and SEED: Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction joined the actions. One woman was arrested. Protesters are increasingly united across state lines, and across projects, and showing that they are not going to settle for causing a ruckus in only their own backyards.  The annual Forum, attended by nearly 600 people, is designed to bring together large energy corporations with local gas distributors.

On Monday morning, Jay Gustaferro of Gloucester interrupted the conference’s opening ceremony and took over the mic. Gustaferro addressed hundreds of gas industry professionals, urging them to take issues such as climate change and water contamination seriously. “I wanted to call out some of the myths that they are hoping to spin at this conference, and call out their hypocrisy and criminality.”

Following Gustaferro’s interruption, three more protesters disrupted the conference one at a time, calling for an end to construction of new fracked gas infrastructure and for local utility companies to shun large gas corporations such as Dominion and Spectra who are pushing for expanded infrastructure. All four were escorted from the room by security.

One of the fliers with a list of demands handed out during the actions at the LDC Gas Forum Northeast. Photo by Kelly Canavan
One of the leaflets with a list of demands handed out during the actions at the LDC Gas Forum Northeast. Photo by Kelly Canavan

After the opening ceremonies, still more protesters disrupted a networking session by showering the conference area with leaflets outlining the groups’ demands, and with chants and calls for an end to the “harm they’re inflicting on communities across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.” Disruptions also occurred outside of the Boston Marriott Copley Place where there conference was being held, and at off site recreational facilities booked by conference attendees.

On Tuesday protesters swarmed a conference session that featured a speaker from Dominion Cove Point. They carried a banner that read “Fracked Gas Kills”, leaflets outlining demands, and quotes from people living in front lines communities who are most impacted by the gas industry.  Heather Doyle of Maryland read testimony from directly impacted community members.  Doyle was ultimately arrested and released Tuesday evening.

Video: Action during session featuring speaking from Dominion Cove Point LNG

“This industry values profit over people, getting rich off of human sickness and destruction of our homes and of the land. Know that we won’t go down without a fight. Our power in protecting our lives is a force that can not be overcome with talk of markets and money,” said Doyle.

Donate to the FANG legal fund to assist with Doyle’s defense

Video: Doyle being carried out to a police vehicle

As Doyle was being carried out, a new wave of protesters flooded into the first four floors of the hotel with flags and banners, while chanting, blowing whistles, and using musical instruments to delay the conference. Ultimately at least twenty police officers came to the scene to clear the protestors from the hotel. They regrouped, buoyed by yet another group of people, and continued protesting on the sidewalk outside. The conference was unable to conduct business for several hours each day due to the protests.

Video: Activists chant “Fracked gas kills!” to methane-gas industry insiders in the hotel lobby

Dominion Cove Point (DCP) is building a fracked-gas export facility in a densely populated area in Calvert County, Maryland, posing an extreme threat to residents who fear an accident could occur like the explosion of a Williams gas pipeline in Pennsylvania last week.  Williams, like Dominion, is hoping to build oversized pipelines, which are themselves increasingly under fire, to feed the export facility.  DCP faces extreme opposition from the local community and all over the shalefields where fracking would increase if the increasingly tenuous project is ever completed.  DCP continues to face litigation and protests.

After several delays, in Massachusetts Spectra Energy broke ground this week on their controversial “AIM” Expansion project in Dedham.  Residents have raised the alarm over the pipeline’s proximity to an active quarry, among other concerns, and have mounted a relentless and ongoing campaign against it.

6/17/2015 – 1:30 p.m. No charges for Heather! Donations to the FANG legal fund will go to the defense of other methane-gas industry resisters, including those arrested during the Burrillville tree-sit in May.

Calvert County Sheriff’s Deputies Working for Dominion Harass and Arrest Lusby Residents and Visitors

Dfc. Christopher Sloane of the Calvert County Sheriff's Office, looking for a reason, any reason, to arrest someone. Photo by Donny Williams.
Dfc. Christopher Sloane of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, looking for a reason, any reason, to arrest someone. Photo by Donny Williams.

Note: We at SEED offer this account in the same spirit as all of our other stories about activists’ encounters with biased officials and institutions in Calvert County, Maryland, including the police, the courts, the jail, and politicians. We want to illustrate how Dominion has used money, both paid and promised, to gain undue influence and fostered the suppression of dissent within the county. We would also like to see the law enforcement officers who have harassed, endangered, and assaulted activists held accountable. As we spread these stories, though, we also wish to acknowledge the fact that many groups of people in this country are targeted for excessive surveillance and harsh policing simply for existing, let alone speaking up. These groups include people of color, trans* people, indigenous people, and people living on the streets. In addition, environmental activists are being murdered at unprecedented rates worldwide, especially those from indigenous groups fighting for survival. What is happening in Calvert County is part of a linked series of oppressive systems, but it is far from its worst manifestation. SEED and its friends and allies have access to platforms and resources that are denied most caught up in this web. We know that recognizing this is not, in and of itself, a sufficient response, but it is a crucial first step in magnifying the voices and supporting the struggles of marginalized and exploited people.

Just after 8 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, May 31, 2015, two cars on Lighthouse Road were stopped and their occupants, who were going to a walk on Cove Point Beach, were harassed by the Calvert County Sheriffs Office Special Operations Team. Donny Williams, a member of SEED and organizer with We Are Cove Point, who lives in Lusby, Maryland, was in one of the cars. That car had missed a turn, and pulled over so one of the occupants could call for directions. Dfc. Christopher Sloane of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office followed the car in his patrol car, put on his lights on, and told the people in the car they were being detained because they didn’t “belong” in Cove Point (both cars had Pennsylvania plates). He did this while wearing a badge around his neck that identified him as a Dominion contractor. The occupants of the car told him they were guests of a resident of Cove Point Beach, but he pulled the driver of the first car out and ran the IDs of all the occupants of both cars. Meanwhile, more police kept arriving. Very soon, there were about 10 police present with several of their vehicles blocking the road. Lou Blancato, Dominion Cove Point’s head of corporate security, showed up on the scene to converse with the gathered police.

After finding nothing incriminating as a result of questioning the first driver and running the IDs, Dfc. Sloane paused, and then said he “smelled something funny” and would have to call the K-9 unit. There was nothing to smell; it was apparent he was using this assertion to further detain and search the vehicles. Meanwhile, Sgt. Bortchevsky, also with the CCSO Special Operations Team, walked to the second vehicle and announced he smelled “pot.” The two occupants of that vehicle remarked that Sgt. Bortchevsky’s eyes were red and bloodshot and they actually began to smell marijuana when he walked up to their window. They told Sgt. Bortchevsky that he smelled like pot, and he walked away. Matt Weaver, the driver of the second vehicle, later remarked that, while most of the sheriff’s deputies were cordial, Sgt. Bortchevsky’s aggressive attitude appeared to make the other officers nervous and substantially increased the tension in the situation.

Soon, everybody was pulled out of both cars and searched, though they announced they did not consent to being searched. Dfc. Sloane remarked that it didn’t matter if they didn’t consent, because it wasn’t a search; it was a “scan.” His “scan” involved patting them down and going through belongings in their pockets.

When the K-9 unit arrived, an officer and a dog went around the first car, and the driver heard the K-9 officer tell Dfc. Sloane that car was clean. They then went around the second car, which was also clean. However, Dfc. Sloane informed the people present that the dog had a “hit” on the first car, and he now had to search it to see what the dog may have smelled — even though the K-9 officer had said the car was clean and had no “hit.”

During Sloane’s search of the car, he found a pill bottle with some prescription medicine in it. Kate Rorke, the bottle’s owner, immediately claimed it as hers. When asked, she said she didn’t have her prescriptions on her. She lives in Baltimore and had come to Calvert County for the weekend; in fact, she had been acting as a medic for the march from Solomons to Lusby the day before. Kate had packed the medicine she’d need for the weekend, and wasn’t in the habit of taking her prescriptions with her everywhere that she took a few pills. Sloane and Sgt. David Canning, who identified himself as the officer in charge, said that Kate was going to be arrested for possessing prescription pills without a prescription on her person. Kate suggested they could look up her prescription, and the deputies said a database to do that doesn’t exist. She offered to get her boyfriend, who was home where her prescriptions were located, to take a picture of the forms and send them to her on her phone. After previously saying that people should carry around pictures of their prescriptions on their phones, Sloane and Canning now said they wouldn’t accept that because the picture “could be doctored.” Kate said her prescription was from Rite Aid, and she could call up her pharmacist, who would confirm that she indeed had a prescription for these pills. Sloane and Canning said they couldn’t do that, because they wouldn’t know they were really talking to the Rite Aid pharmacist, as opposed to one of Kate’s friends or any other random person. Kate said the cops could get the number from Rite Aid on their own and call the pharmacist themselves, then pass the phone to her to give the pharmacist authority to share her prescription record with the police. Sloane and Canning didn’t want to do that.

As this exchange took place, two Cove Point Beach residents showed up to claim the occupants of the cars as their guests. They said they absolutely belonged in the area, since they were there to see them. The police said they didn’t care about that any more. They were now in the midst of an “investigation” of “suspicious vehicles.”

After more than an hour, the deputies said the two occupants of the second car were free to go. When the occupants tried to talk with the others who were not yet released about where they should go (the reason they had pulled over in the first place), Dfc. Sloane started yelling to them to leave immediately or get arrested, and to get out of Cove Point. Those two left the scene and went to a Cove Point Beach resident’s house. Soon after, the police arrested Kate and ordered everyone else to leave. They went to the same Cove Point Beach resident’s house, where they called a lawyer and began making plans to get Kate out of jail as quickly as possible.

Kate was charged with two counts of possession of schedule drugs (schedule 2 and 4) without a permit. She was seen around 2 p.m. by the commissioner, who released Kate without bail, saying she was being held without probable cause. Kate still has to return to Prince Frederick in September for a court date. She is now facing a total of eight years in prison for not having her prescriptions on her.

This episode continues a pattern of behavior in which the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office treats people as suspicious merely for opposing Dominion’s export terminal project. Calvert County is not a colony of Dominion, but it feels increasingly like it is. These cars were originally pulled over because they had out-of-state plates and were driving on Lighthouse Road around a time that police knew anti-Dominion people were gathering in the area (on the private property of a Cove Point Beach resident). Dfc. Sloane did not hesitate to tell the occupants of the cars, loudly and repeatedly, that they didn’t belong there and weren’t welcome there. (Dominion Resources is based in Richmond, Virginia. IHI/Kiewit, the joint venture that serves as the engineering, procurement, and construction contractor for the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal project, is also not based in Maryland. IHI E&C, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tokyo-based company IHI Corporation, is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Kiewit is based in Omaha, Nebraska.) Yet, later in the day, many people with out-of-state plates were on Lighthouse Road for an event at Cove Point lighthouse, without being stopped or harassed by the police. It’s clear that the difference was the people’s perceived feelings about Dominion. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office is a public entity, not a private force for Dominion, yet it seems to work as both.

Calvert County Citizens March with Allies to Stop Cove Point LNG

Cetology

Photo: About 200 people participated in Saturday’s walk/ Photo by Anne Meador

By John Zangas and Anne Meador

Lusby, Maryland has never seen a civic action this big, according to local residents. Almost two hundred citizens and supporters mobilized on Saturday for a march to stop energy corporation Dominion Resources from converting Cove Point LNG into a liquefaction facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood. They walked six miles from Solomons Island to Cove Point Park to bring attention to health and safety concerns posed by the Dominion export terminal, which they say appropriated the Cove Point name from their community.

We Are Cove Point, Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, Beyond Extreme Energy, Sierra Club Southern Maryland Group, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Patuxent Friends Quaker Meeting organized the “Walk for Calvert County to be Dominion Free.” The walk was to help residents support each other in the…

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Activists were assaulted and put in danger by Calvert County Sheriff’s Office during February action at Dominion site

On the early morning of February 3, 2015, Heather Doyle and Carling Sothoron, two activists with Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction (SEED), climbed a crane at Dominion’s construction area known as “Offsite A” in Lusby, Maryland, and hung a large banner from the top that read, “Dominion, get out. Don’t frack Maryland. No gas exports. Save Cove Point.”

They took this action to support the people whose lives would be put at risk with the completion of the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal and liquefaction plant, and also to support people across the Marcellus shale who have been living with the ravages of fracking.

On April 20, they both entered guilty pleas to a single trespassing charge each. Doyle is currently serving 39 days in jail, while Sothoron had a 40-day jail sentence suspended along with three years of probation and fines.

An important side of the story has not been told in order to not incriminate Doyle or Sothoron before their court appearances. Doyle was violently assaulted by Sergeant Vladimir Bortchevsky, and put at risk of major harm by Dfc. Robert Brady and others. Sothoron experienced a woefully amateur and potentially lethal response to her presence on the crane by the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Team, most directly by Dfc. Stephen Esposito. Officers Brady and Esposito were given a “Team Excellence” award on April 7, but in truth, the Sheriff’s Office was unprofessional, unsafe, unprepared and violent that day.

When the first police arrived on the scene, Sothoron was most of the way up the arm of the crane, being safely belayed by Doyle, who was at the base of the arm, about 15 feet above the ground.

Doyle’s account:

I stayed at the base of the crane. The climber was using a lead climbing technique, and I was the belay person. It was my job to keep that climber safe in case they fell. I was also attached to the crane safely and held in by ropes, and I was sitting in a harness the whole time. So, I was completely secured and safe in my position on the crane. And all of our equipment was also secured to the crane, so there was no chance of anything falling anywhere.

When the police arrived on the scene, the other climber was a lot farther up the crane. They came up behind where I was kneeling on the crane. I told them we were there for a nonviolent peaceful protest and that I was the climber’s belay person and that her safety was up to me. I also informed [Dfc. Brady] that I had extensive experience climbing and that I knew what I was doing, and that we wanted to keep everyone as safe as possible.

He asked me if I was secured to the crane, and I said that I was safe. He then started to reach over, and he wasn’t tied into anything at that point. He wasn’t wearing a harness or anything like that. He reached over into the bag of the excess rope that I was feeding out toward the climber, and I told him that he needed to not touch the rope. I tried to pull the rope away with my free hand, and then he pulled the bag of rope back from me. He then took all of the rope out of the bag. Meanwhile, I was focused on keeping the climber safe and belaying her. He just wrapped the excess rope haphazardly around another beam above and behind me. There was no rhyme or reason to it. He wrapped it around several times and didn’t secure it in any way. This wasn’t a correct anchor, and I told him that that wasn’t any recognizable anchor. I also told him that, the way he had affixed the rope, I couldn’t put my brake arm down, and it’s necessary for me to keep my brake arm down to be able to keep the climber safe. I told him he was endangering her. I kept telling him this over a period of several minutes.

He eventually, I believe, realized that he didn’t know what he was doing, and then at that point, he undid the rope. He was like, “I’m going to undo the rope so that you can put your brake arm down and belay the climber.”

I also told him that, without the excess rope, the rope that he had attached to the beam, it had prevented me from feeding the rope up to the climber, so that if she wanted to descend out of the crane, that she wouldn’t be able to actually do that.

He said, “We’ll bring her back down the same way she came up,” and I said that wouldn’t be a safe way to do that. I said that she was an experienced climber, and it’d be safer for her to have the rope so that she could descend out of the crane.

At that point, he undid the rope — not because he was going to let me feed the rope to her, because I couldn’t communicate with her and also because he wasn’t going to let her do that — but he acknowledged that I had to bring my brake arm down to safely perform the belay.

When he undid the rope, I felt very unsafe, because I felt that he hadn’t taken proper steps when he had come up to keep everyone safe. I didn’t believe that he understood anything about the system that was there, and my expectation in actions like this is that they call … They wait for people to … You know, “Do no harm” first. You don’t touch things that you don’t know about, and wait for people to arrive who have skills to be able to properly assess and make safe choices in that situation.

When he undid the rope, I started to walk out farther onto the beams of the crane because I wanted to put space between him and me because I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t trust him to not mess with my safety equipment. I started to walk out onto the crane a little bit, and I took the rope out of my belay device because I felt like, at that point, it wasn’t unsafe for the rope to be out of my belay device. I felt like it would potentially make me safer to not have the rope attached to me. The rope that was being fed to the climber was not my safety. I had additional ropes that were affixing me to the crane. When I moved out, farther away, because I was afraid for my own safety, that’s when several other cops had arrived. I believe it was another Calvert County sheriff and two state troopers, and they started to tug on me. At that point, I was standing up, and there was a lot of slack in my cowtails and my rope system that created my safeties, and I was scared that they were going to pull me across the arm of the crane. At this point, I would say I was about 15 feet up off the ground. So, there was a lot of space that I could fall into. I was also aware that the cops weren’t wearing any sort of climbing equipment. They were just up there on their own without any regard or consideration for securing themselves to the crane.

I was standing up, and there was a lot of slack in my system. The ropes that I was using as my safeties aren’t designed to take a shock load. They’re static ropes, and they’re not designed for someone to take a fall. I was worried as the cops were pulling me back that they were going to cause me to fall and cause me to shock load my system, which can result in a lot of injury or potentially rope failure in extreme cases. I was very scared for my safety at that point and felt like the situation was being handled really haphazardly. They were trying to move quickly, as opposed to safely.

As they pulled me across, because I was being pulled by three large men, I tried to sit down into my rope system as much as I could, which I think angered the cops because it appeared that I was being non-compliant. They eventually pulled me across while I was trying to sit down into my system. When they got me back over to the beginning of the arm where they were able to somewhat stand and balance themselves, they turned me around and sort of splayed me out against the base of the crane. One of the state troopers each held my arms down sort of behind me. The cop who had first been on the scene with me was holding the rope that was attached to the other climber. And this other Calvert County Sheriff [Sergeant Vladimir Bortchevsky] stood in front of me, overtop of me. I was completely pinned down at this point [with her arms and legs fully extended from her body] and not struggling. I wasn’t trying to get away. But he stood overtop of me, and he put his forearm into my throat and started to press down into my larynx.

It was a lot of pressure. I could still make noise, so I wasn’t being completely strangled, but I was having a hard time breathing, and I was very scared. I was trying to tell him that I was having a hard time breathing, and he kept the pressure on my throat for about 20 seconds, and then he let off. He stared at me, and then he pushed his forearm back into my throat for about another 15 seconds. I was very scared at this point. I was surrounded by cops watching this other cop do something to me. There was no one who could see what was happening to me, and I was all alone at the bottom of the crane. He was assaulting me because he wanted to.

I felt like I didn’t know what to expect next, and it was pretty frightening. After he let off my throat the second time, he lifted up his boot, and he put the whole sole of his foot pressing down into my sternum. He was putting a lot of pressure into my ribcage and just pressing down really hard. It felt like he was trying to crush my chest. Then, he put his foot down and said, “Oh, I’m just trying to step over you here,” and was sort of smirking and smiling about what he had just done to me.

After that, they wanted to lift me up and over to get me to the other side and to bring me down off the crane, because they wanted me to be “safe.” They undid my ropes that were securing me to the base of the crane — although it took them a really long time to do it, because they didn’t know how to open the carabiners. They were just holding me down for a while while they were figuring out how to operate some pretty basic and essential climbing equipment. That also scared me, because it appeared that they didn’t know what they were handling.

After they finally did that, where they unsecured me from the crane, they passed me over the top while they were tugging on my jacket, they then were like, “Hold up, we’re going to make sure you’re ‘safe’ as you’re coming down,” which meant that they took my five-foot-long-each cowtails with carabiners at the end and attached the carabiners together, which is metal-to-metal, which you’re really not supposed to do ever in this climbing technique and then put it around a really tiny cable guide wire that was going up the crane arm so that I would be “secure.” Well, there’s a lot of issues with that. For one thing, the cable is at an angle. So, if I had fallen as they tried to pull me down, I would have slid down and slammed into the cab of the crane. I also could have taken a five-foot fall [before she was caught by the cowtails] and probably seriously injured myself because there was so much slack in the system. That’s not how you secure yourself at all to that equipment.

They were trying to pull me across and I was yelling that it was unsafe, that they didn’t know what they were doing, that this was not an appropriate way to secure me. I was yelling, “It’s unsafe, it’s unsafe, it’s unsafe! Let me just crawl down this other way.” They said they would, and I tried to crawl down, but they were still pulling me the whole time. So, I didn’t feel like I had any control to maneuver myself safely down the crane.

At that same point, the first officer [Brady] who had appeared on the scene and had previously wrapped the rope on the beam started pulling on the rope that was connected to the climber at the top of the crane. I said, “Stop doing that. That’s unsafe. You’re going to pull her down the crane.” He continued to ignore me. He didn’t seem like he paid any attention to what I was saying, but he had no visual on her.

He had no idea what the situation was up at the top of the crane, but he still was just pulling on her rope haphazardly. He could have caused her serious injury that way.

After I was taken down off the crane and was down on the ground, next to a muddy area, they started to take off my climbing equipment. I asked them to wait for a female officer, but they didn’t listen to me. A lot of male cops had their hands all over my lower torso and were taking off my harness. They wouldn’t allow me to take it off, which was also really difficult for me to experience. There was no female cop on scene to take me away, so they made me sit on the ground in the mud for a while. All the while, there were people making comments, saying things like, “Well, you can sit here at the bottom of the crane and watch your friend fall out of this crane.”

At no point did I see any sort of fire or emergency personnel on scene. One thing I know from personal experience and from other folks who have done these sorts of actions is that typically firefighters are the folks who are trained to perform high-angle rope rescue and also to deal with rescue situations like this, but I never saw any fire personnel on scene. It appeared to me with the Calvert County Sheriffs that I encountered that none of them had any sort of familiarity with the rope techniques that we’re using and did not demonstrate any understanding of the equipment that we were using.

What I experienced during my arrest in this action was a complete lack of regard for our safety. I also experienced an assault by law enforcement who are supposed to be protecting citizens in the community. I felt like they were acting very hasty and just wanted to demonstrate their control over a situation that they didn’t understand. I would have expected them to bring in emergency personnel who were trained to extract people in this situation. It felt like they were just trying to work with Dominion to resolve the situation according to their own terms and not in terms of safety. I experienced violence against my person, and I felt very unsafe interacting with the cops despite trying to communicate and do my due diligence to try to resolve the situation safely.

Sothoron’s account:

I was able to hear Heather through a phone earpiece, and I could tell right away that the interactions between the cop and Heather were not going very well — that he was being really intense and disrespectful to her, and really rough.

Heather was my belayer, which means that the rope that was attached to my harness was being managed by her. So, if that rope got pulled, then I would get pulled down with it. Pretty quickly, the cop took control of that rope, which felt really unsafe for me. I could tell Heather felt uncomfortable with what he was doing. I tied off my end of the line to the structure of the crane as quick as I could.

Having someone on the other end of the rope pulling on my rope who shouldn’t have been pulling on my rope made me feel really uncomfortable. It also made me question whether the cop had any idea of what he was doing.

That rope that I was attached to was my safety line. That was my way to get down off of the crane. Knowing that I didn’t have that option any more, I had to figure out a new plan.

Eventually, one of the Special Operations Team members, Steve Esposito, got chosen to be the guy to climb the crane. He climbed the crane a lot differently than I had. He decided to climb the top part of the crane, along which there were two cables running down the top part, so he attached himself to the cables and climbed up that way. I don’t even remember him having any rope.

He got to the point where I was and was standing above where I was. He immediately told me to get off the crane, knowing my way to get down had been compromised. He said I could come down on my own or come down with him. At that point, I looked at the equipment that he had carried up with him.

I’ve been climbing for quite a while now and have a lot of experience in technical climbing and have been training others in climbing, as well. And so, from my knowledge of climbing and rescuing, Officer Esposito was not prepared to bring me down off of that crane. He had very little equipment, and unless I was going to go for a piggy-back ride on him, that was not happening.

I asked him numerous times through our interactions on the crane if he could contact other officers at the bottom or whoever his supervisor is and ask if they can untie my rope so that I could come down on my own, which was the way that I felt the most safe doing, and he refused to even address that question. At one point, he informed somebody on the radio that that was my request, but the only answer was silence.

One of the important things that I think there is to mention is that Officer Esposito never once checked my safety while I was on the crane. In the report that was written, one of the first things mentioned is that Officer Esposito climbed the crane to make sure I was safe. That actually never happened. He never asked me what my systems were, how I was attached to the crane, if I had options of coming down on my own, and if I did, what those options were. And he never informed me as to how he was going to get me off the crane or how the other officers who were there were planning on getting me off the crane. I spent a lot of time just wondering what was going to happen next.

I was attached to the crane in a couple of ways. I had two lanyards with carabiner connections that I lashed onto two different beams on the crane, and I also had the line that I climbed up on that was anchored to a different beam on the crane, and I was still attached to that line, as well. So, technically, I had three points of safety.

I did feel safe from my own systems and my own setup. I felt good about where I was at on the crane. I didn’t feel like I needed another person to check, but I know that that’s what their role is to do, is to go up and see what my systems are. I feel like their job is to make safety a priority, and at no point did I feel like they did that.

Officer Esposito was connected to one of two cables that run from the top of the crane down to the bottom. It was hard from my angle, being at the bottom of the square of the crane, to know what his equipment setup was, but from what I could see, he was just attached by carabiners to the cable. I don’t know if he had some other apparatus that allowed him to squeeze the cable when he stopped, because if he didn’t, if he slipped or wasn’t hanging onto something, he would just slide all the way back down. That’s to say, I question his capacity to be rescuing me or to be assessing the situation of how things were at the top of the crane.

After a while, it felt like 30 minutes or maybe closer to an hour, I still was never informed as to what was going on to bring me down, but all of a sudden, the crane started to shake side to side. A crane operator showed up to actually move the crane to bring me down, and, again, I asked Officer Esposito on numerous occasions what the plan was. He said he didn’t have to tell me.

When the crane started to shake, I actually almost fell off of the seat where I was sitting. I was still attached to the crane, so I would have been fine, but that shaking made me really nervous. I also was under the impression that they wouldn’t be allowed to move the crane. I don’t even know if that’s legal for them to operate a crane while somebody is attached to it who’s not a worker.

The crane moved back and forth on numerous occasions for maybe 20 minutes. It would move a little bit and then take a break, and then move back and forth a little bit and then take a break. We were just getting shaked back and forth. I was able to hold onto a beam on the crane, so I felt OK, but Officer Esposito, who was on top of the crane and was actually mostly standing straight up most of the time and didn’t have a lot to hold on to, looked very nervous and uncomfortable. I actually felt worried for him, because he didn’t seem like he was in a very safe position for a crane to be moving.

Once it started moving back and forth, which it seemed to me like maybe they were warming up the crane or something, then eventually, they moved it all the way to the side and then lowered it. This whole process took quite a while, but I was brought down that way, and then all of my equipment was removed and I was arrested.

In the report, there’s a section that has Esposito quoting me, saying, “It’s not going to stop. It’s only the beginning.” I don’t feel like it’s that big of a deal that that quote is in the report, but the quote is very inaccurate. I never said anything to that effect. I think it’s just interesting how Officer Esposito created his own analysis of what was happening and what I was saying and why I was there, based off of barely any dialogue that he and I had.

Spending a couple hours on top of the crane, I was able to witness what was happening on the ground. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see that anything special was brought in for a rescue. It didn’t seem like there was any alternative than lowering the crane itself. There was no fire truck that was ever brought in. Even once I was on the ground, I didn’t see anyone else in climbing equipment. It just seemed like they came up with one option, and that’s the way that they were going to try it.

With my climbing experience, I felt very qualified to do what I needed to do while I was on the crane. Unfortunately, the interference of the cops, I think, compromised that. I don’t think their interactions with Heather or I helped create a more safe environment. I think they actually did the opposite. By tying off my rope, that prevented me from getting down the way that I was prepared to get down, and it didn’t really leave me with any other option. Also, the cops weren’t informing me of what my other option was. They weren’t letting me know what they were prepared to do to get me down. So, I spent a lot of time just worrying about what that was going to look like. Unfortunately, then, I had to completely trust them in getting me down. I wasn’t able to rely on my own experience and skills to get myself down from the crane because they had prevented me from doing that by tying off my rope.

The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly turned away participation by the fire department and other outside help during the protests against Dominion’s plans for Cove Point. The Special Operations Team, lead by Captain Ricky Thomas, seems to see itself as the go-to troupe, trained and prepared for any situation.

The Calvert County government, whether it’s been the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) or the police, has sworn again and again that it is prepared for any emergency related to the Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility that is under construction. But if it can’t handle two people climbing on a crane without assaulting them and putting their lives in danger, how are we supposed to trust that it can capably respond to a gas explosion in a residential area with no escape route? Mickey Shymansky, the former assistant fire chief of operations for the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department, stepped down last year after saying the county was unprepared to deal with an emergency at Cove Point. Many other County employees have been issued gag orders that prevent them from talking about the Dominion project, much less voicing their concerns. The BOCC has even blocked a safety study from taking place that would take a very simple and important first-step to determine what the risks are that need to be responded to.

It’s clear that we aren’t able to trust those who are supposed to protect public health and safety. It’s time we’re honest about that.