CANYON CITY – Four protesters were sentenced last week for disorderly conduct in last December’s blockade of a megaload transport through John Day.
Appearing in Grant County Justice Court on Aug. 20 were: Carlos Eugenio Voli, of Edmonds, Wash.; Amelia VanPatten Hudson, Portland; Grace Warner Pettygrove, Coos Bay; and Brittany Ellen Osland, Florence.
Each pleaded no contest to a single count of second-degree disorderly conduct. With that plea, defendants don’t admit or deny guilt but agree not to fight the charges. The court system treats no contest as a form of guilty plea.
The court dismissed additional misdemeanor charges against the defendants: two disorderly conduct counts and one criminal mischief count each for Voli and Hudson, and two disorderly conduct, one criminal mischief and one recklessly endangering another person counts for Osland and Pettygrove.
Justice of the Peace Kathy Stinnett sentenced each of the four to one year of bench probation, 40 hours of community service, a $500 fine, and two days of jail, with credit for the two days they already served. They also were ordered to avoid knowing or intentional contact with the Hillsboro-based hauler Omega Morgan or its agents and employees.
The defendants were among 15 people arrested the night of Dec. 16 as Omega Morgan moved a massive piece of equipment for General Electric, one of three controversial loads to move through Oregon and Idaho en route to the tar-sands oil fields in Canada.
All 15 initially pleaded not guilty to a total of 73 charges. Last week’s plea arrangement by the four resulted in dismissal of all charges against the other 11 defendants.
The four were the most actively involved in blocking the traffic, using contraptions to lock themselves to vehicles disabled in the roadway. The first blockade was at the west end of town, as the megaload prepared to move from the weigh scales on Highway 26; the second was just east of town.
The others arrested included supporters who observed and recorded the protests.
Pettygrove read a statement for the four describing the motivation for the protests as their staunch opposition to the tar sands mining and the devastation it is bringing to the land, water and people in Alberta. She said she didn’t take the decision to protest lightly, and she understands there are consequences.
“Yet with the injustices that exist surrounding this issue, doing nothing doesn’t feel like an option,” she said.
Defense attorney Lauren Ragen criticized the tactics of law enforcement in handling a nonviolent protest, saying many people who were arrested on the sidelines would have dispersed if they had been warned. She also criticized what she saw as unreasonable use of force in pulling the protesters, who were locked into devices connected to disabled vehicles, from the roadway.
“Although these young people stand on strong convictions, but they mean no harm to any living thing,” she said.
District Attorney Ryan Joslin said there are a number of ways they could have made their views known, and he said he understood the protesters could have unhooked themselves from the apparatus if they chose to do so.
Last week’s proceedings also included a restitution hearing in which Joslin argued the protesters should pay Omega Morgan for two hours of time and other costs. Joslin started with a request of $2,466 to cover the cost of employees, equipment and pilot cars.
Omega Morgan project manager Eric Zander, testifying by phone, was asked about documents provided by his company to show payroll costs.
Ragen questioned discrepancies in the documents, which showed different employees and rates of pay. She noted Omega Morgan was billing General Electric $75 an hour for employees who make $20 an hour, which Zander explained as a matter of “cost vs. price.”
Zander said he couldn’t “testify with 100 percent certainty” that the people identified on one spread sheet were all on the job Dec. 16. He also said the second blockade appeared to have been cleared by the time the huge load proceeded to the east end of John Day.
The latter prompted Ragen to question Joslin’s assertion that the delay took two hours.
Joslin asked for a continuance to another day to clear up discrepancies in the documents. Ragen objected, noting the state had since December to compile its evidence.
Stinnett denied the motion, but called a break during which the parties reviewed the documents.
Joslin returned with a revised restitution request, outlining three options. He sought the highest – $1,719 – and said the company put in the hours to do the work and there was no evidence contradicting the assertion that the delay was two hours.
Ragen said Omega Morgan shouldn’t qualify for economic damages in the first place, but if it did, there was no evidence that the delay took more than about an hour. She also said there was no evidence the company was suffered any monetary loss.
She asserted the employees were paid, and that Omega Morgan also was paid in full by General Electric for the job.
Stinnett denied restitution, saying the state had failed to prove its case that the company suffered any economic damages as the result of the disorderly conduct.
Joslin later pointed out the plea arrangement saved the cost of a trial – or several trials, if the defendants had to be tried separately. He said that could have overwhelmed the county’s available jury pool and tapped other resources.