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Sentencing of Utah Tar Sands Opponents – And a Message

After nearly 6 months of difficult negotiations between defense attorneys for 25 tar sands protesters and the Uintah County prosecutor’s office, Judge Edwin Peterson handed down sentences to the 25 land defenders on the morning of Thursday, January 8th.

Several of the initial charges filed, such as “felony rioting” and “attempt to escape custody” were clearly intended to send a signal that any pushback against the extraction industry in northeastern Utah was going to be dealt with harshly and treated as a highly serious matter, and that an example was going to be made of certain individuals.

In the days that followed the July arrests, various news organization websites and other internet websites had police alleging that protesters vandalized signs, resisted arrest, struck officers with rocks and bottles, attempted to escape, and injured an officer (the officer twisted his wrist while moving a protester who had sat down in the road to block the police van). None of that was true.

It was also reported that US Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd was alleged to have said that the protesters represent a small group craving media attention, that they unwisely allowed children to follow them into the fenced-off enclosure (not true), and that police were expressing concern that there was now a group of people (the protesters) who had become a mob.

Ultimately seven of the twenty-five were charged with third-degree felonies of rioting and failure to stop at command of law enforcement; these charges were misdemeanors that were “enhanced” to felonies by law enforcement because more than 3 people participated, and because the offence took place on a “mining operation” (which was not the case, the action involved heavy equipment that was being used for clear-cutting and grading). The felony charges potentially carried a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in jail.

On the day of the court proceedings and sentencing, there were about a dozen supporters in the courtroom during the proceedings, and supporters wore orange ribbons to show their support and solidarity.

[Background: Twenty-one protesters were arrested as a result of a July 21 civil disobedience action and subsequent confrontation involving 80 anti-tar sands activists at the US Oil Sands site near PR Springs, Utah. Five were arrested on September 23rd after interrupting operation of heavy equipment in a clear-cut area that will be used to store future strip mining tailings. Participants in the action included activists from local groups UtahTarSandsResistance, PeacefulUprising, CanyonCountryRisingtTde and other activists from across the US]

As it turned out, because of numerous back-and forth discussions with the prosecutor’s office, the defense attorneys negotiated down the most outrageous charges, and no jail time was handed out to anyone. Sentences ranged from 1 year probation and 40 hours community service for 10 individuals who had been charged with criminal trespass, to 18 months probation and 120 hours of community service for seven who had been charged with felony rioting. Two of those seven were also ordered to stay 300 feet from the US Oil Sands tar sands site. Others who were charged with interfering with an arresting officer and criminal trespass received were given sentences in between the two extremes. Nine of the land defenders are associated with the activist groups UtahTarSandsResistance (UTSR) and PeacefulUprising. Many of the other 16 are out-of-state environment activists that came to PR Springs for a week-long Action Camp that preceded the civil disobedience action. {more}

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Sentencing of Utah Tar Sands Opponents – And a Message

After nearly 6 months of difficult negotiations between defense attorneys for 25 tar sands protesters and the Uintah County prosecutor’s office, Judge Edwin Peterson handed down sentences to the 25 land defenders on the morning of Thursday, January 8th.

Several of the initial charges filed, such as “felony rioting” and “attempt to escape custody” were clearly intended to send a signal that any pushback against the extraction industry in northeastern Utah was going to be dealt with harshly and treated as a highly serious matter, and that an example was going to be made of certain individuals.

In the days that followed the July arrests, various news organization websites and other internet websites had police alleging that protesters vandalized signs, resisted arrest, struck officers with rocks and bottles, attempted to escape, and injured an officer (the officer twisted his wrist while moving a protester who had sat down in the road to block the police van). None of that was true.

It was also reported that US Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd was alleged to have said that the protesters represent a small group craving media attention, that they unwisely allowed children to follow them into the fenced-off enclosure (not true), and that police were expressing concern that there was now a group of people (the protesters) who had become a mob.

Ultimately seven of the twenty-five were charged with third-degree felonies of rioting and failure to stop at command of law enforcement; these charges were misdemeanors that were “enhanced” to felonies by law enforcement because more than 3 people participated, and because the offence took place on a “mining operation” (which was not the case, the action involved heavy equipment that was being used for clear-cutting and grading). The felony charges potentially carried a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in jail.

On the day of the court proceedings and sentencing, there were about a dozen supporters in the courtroom during the proceedings, and supporters wore orange ribbons to show their support and solidarity.

[Background: Twenty-one protesters were arrested as a result of a July 21 civil disobedience action and subsequent confrontation involving 80 anti-tar sands activists at the US Oil Sands site near PR Springs, Utah. Five were arrested on September 23rd after interrupting operation of heavy equipment in a clear-cut area that will be used to store future strip mining tailings.  Participants in the action included activists from local groups UtahTarSandsResistance, PeacefulUprising, CanyonCountryRisingtTde and other activists from across the US]

As it turned out, because of numerous back-and forth discussions with the prosecutor’s office, the defense attorneys negotiated down the most outrageous charges, and no jail time was handed out to anyone. Sentences ranged from 1 year probation and 40 hours community service for 10 individuals who had been charged with criminal trespass, to 18 months probation and 120 hours of community service for seven who had been charged with felony rioting. Two of those seven were also ordered to stay 300 feet from the US Oil Sands tar sands site. Others who were charged with interfering with an arresting officer and criminal trespass received were given sentences in between the two extremes. Nine of the land defenders are associated with the activist groups UtahTarSandsResistance (UTSR) and PeacefulUprising. Many of the other 16 are out-of-state environment activists that came to PR Springs for a week-long Action Camp that preceded the civil disobedience action.

Support the Land Defenders Arrested on Monday at the Utah Tar Sands!

The judge’s sentences were based on plea diversion agreements that had been negotiated by the defense attorneys, with the result that the charges would be held in abeyance/diversion; that is, set aside for a period of time such that if during the abeyance/diversion (probation) period protesters violate any law (with minor exceptions), the prosecutor retains the ability to resurrect the initial charges.

It had been expected that a UTSR defendant would be able to make a presentation to the court to explain the reason for the civil disobedience action, and the prosecutor had indicated that this would probably be allowed by the judge. However, Judge Peterson would not allow any statement to be made in the courtroom. After court was dismissed, UTSR held a quick press conference and gave statements outside the court to the Vernal Express reporter and to KSL Channel 5 and KSTU Channel 13 news.
Melanie Martin: “The government needs to penalize the corporate criminals who are destroying the air and the water and the land, not the people working to protect them.”
Raphael Cordray: “We know that people around the world are realizing that the government and the laws and legislation is not going to protect us, and that the laws of nature are unforgiving. And that humanity is at stake.”

At a press conference in Salt lake City that afternoon to Environews.tv, UTSR’s Jesse Fruhwirth stated that “They (the charges) were heavy-handed and a bit ridiculous. I suppose that was an effort to scare and repress any sort of further activity or tone down the aggressiveness of any future resistance. The reality is however that this has backfire, the felony accusations gathered a lot of attention and support, and made people begin to realize just how grave and serious this battle is.”

To the question of whether the results of the court proceeding is going to slow UTSR down, Jesse responded, “No, in fact it’s really emboldened us. The upside of facing a challenge like this is you see people who come and vocally and explicitly tell you how much they support you and how much they want to join and contribute and do what they can. So when it’s highlighted how some individuals have really put their bodies on the line and then their freedom on the line, it has a tendency to inspire other people to be maybe willing to take the same risks for justice and the future of the planet.”

“We think it’s morally imperative on all people who have power and privilege to resist and to join up in whatever ways are most appropriate in their communities, to fight for a revolution against the social order and fight for a world that emphasizes and prioritizes human need over corporate profit.”


Utah Tar Sands blockade July 2014

We at UtahTarSandsResistance will continue our vigil at PR Springs this coming spring. We will continue our work to oppose and stop the US Oil Sands strip mine operation, to grow the movement, and to keep educating the public of the danger of this mine to the ecosystem of the Tavaputs plateau and its population of deer, elk, bear and cougar. We have observed wildlife at the 9-acre US Oil Sands test pit site on numerous occasions drinking from pools of rainwater and snowmelt that collects in the pit, water that is now exposed to toxic heavy metals that have been disturbed by the pit excavation, such as mercury, manganese, chromium, arsenic, vanadium and possibly lead. Even cattle owned by local ranchers drink from these pools. We are horrified to think that hunters who harvest these game animals, and ranchers, are potentially feeding tainted meat to their children.

The stakes are high: If this strip mine operation gets expanded to the full 32,000 acres – 50 square miles – of the US Oil Sands lease, almost half the size of nearby Arches National Park. And more extraction industry speculators are chomping at the bit – relatively small companies such as Red Leaf Resources, Tomco (UK), MCW Energy Group (Canadian) and Enefit (an Estonian government-owned company). These extraction industry “locusts“ are looking to make a fast buck with a goal of getting their operation up and running, pumping up the stock value and then selling to other investors or larger companies and then moving on to the next get-rich-quick investment.

It’s not about oil production or even energy independence, it’s about making that quick buck. And if you don’t think that this will get ugly fast, just consider for a moment how fifty, or a hundred or so strip mines the size of Arches National Park would make the landscape of the Tavaputs plateau area look. Please join us in opposition.

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