By Kevin Zeese, We Are Cove Point
Today, Jesse Schultz, Donny Williams, Kelly Canavan and Michael Hanes went on trial for the first Cove Point protest in the fall when Kelly U-locked herself to a front loader at a Cove Point construction site. The trial was heard by Calvert County District Court Judge Robert B. Riddle.
On the day of the trial, a sheriff’s officer served additional charges against Kelly Canavan related to attaching herself to Dominion property. The trial was scheduled to start at 1:00 PM and she was told of those charges at 1:20 PM. When the trial finally began at 3:00 PM attorney Mark Goldstone moved to dismiss those new charges. The prosecutor was unable to say when the charges had been filed and when she had been served. After a brief argument, Judge Riddle dismissed those charges.
All four Protectors faced the charge of trespass on Dominion’s property. The property, known as Area B, was on the Solomon’s Island waterfront. Large equipment will be brought ashore at Area B, including 300 foot mega loads. These football [field-]sized pieces of equipment will travel 10 miles to the Dominion fracked gas terminal area at approximately 3 miles per hour on Highway 2-4 through Cove Point.
Judge Riddle greatly limited the testimony of the defendants who were only briefly allowed to describe why they took the action they did. Michael testified that he was very concerned about the impact of fracking on communities in the Mid-Atlantic as well as its impact on climate change. Further, they knew that the Dominion terminal put the safety and health of the residents of Cove Point at risk and that it would lead to water and air pollution in the community.
Judge Riddle said this testimony was irrelevant. Judge Riddle only focused on the limited issue of whether the property had No Trespassing signs that a reasonable person would be able to see and that the Protectors were on Dominion property. All of the Protectors told police they did not intend to trespass and that they did not see any sign when they walked on the dirt road entrance to the Terminal. Attorney Mark Goldstone argued that the area where the four Protectors walked, a dirt road leading onto the property, had no fence or gate and that the signs were not visible at 5:30 AM in the morning darkness in November when they went onto the property. But, with that very low hurdle for the elements of trespass, Judge Riddle found all four Cove Point Protectors guilty.
The sentencing was harsh in comparison to other jurisdictions. For the minor charge of trespass they were given a 20 day suspended sentence, 3 years probation and a fine of $500. Typically these types of offenses result in time served, a brief probationary period of under one year, perhaps a small fine or community service. Typically, these offenses result in no criminal conviction after probation is completed.
Kelly Canavan refused probation and opted to serve the 20 day sentence. That evening she went to the Calvert County Detention Center to begin to serve her time and make sure that medication she had been prescribed would be available. She brought the medicine, the prescriptions and a letter from her doctor to the Detention Center. Officials at the Detention Center considered her medical needs and decided that they were unable to dispense two of the prescriptions. They called Judge Riddle who directed Canavan to return to his court on Monday for re-sentencing. The official at the Detention Center said, perhaps the judge would sentence her to home detention. We will update her sentence on Monday.
Canavan was at the jail waiting to enter with 20 supporters at the Detention Center. When she announced that she would not be serving her sentence because of the medication problem, everybody cheered, hoping that a more just sentence would occur on Monday.
Also on Monday, 20 Cove Point Protectors involved in four different protest actions will be going to court. The vast majority plan to go to trial. A majority of those who will go to trial have decided that they will serve their time rather than accept probation. The Cove Point Protectors plan to raise a necessity defense to show that the harms from the fracked gas terminal would be severe to the Cove Point community.
Dr. Margaret Flowers intends to testify that hundreds of lives will be shortened by the carcinogens and other chemicals added to the air of the community and that this will particularly impact children and the elderly as well as fetuses. She will also testify to the safety risk of an explosion at the plant and chemical spills with two trucks carrying chemicals going to the plant every day. Further, she will testify that the massive wall being put up by Dominion to hide the terminal from the road increases the likelihood of an explosion which would turn the wall into shrapnel rapidly flying into the air, impacting the homes that are right across the street as well as for up to a mile away. Finally she will testify that a gas export terminal, liquefaction plant and refinery have never been placed so close to a community of more than 40,000 people.
Tracey Eno, a resident of Cove Point, will add that people have tried every avenue to stop this terminal from being built. She has testified 18 time before the County Commissioners who do not answer the questions she and other community members raise and have refused to do a quantitative risk assessment to determine the risks to the community. She has testified at numerous state and federal hearings, written to local, state and federal representatives and President Obama. Citizens have tried litigation and all aspects of lobbying. There are not other alternatives to civil resistance to protect the health of the community.