#NOKXL: What Wood County Officials Are Saying About the Tar Sands Blockade
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It’s day 25 of the Tar Sands blockade in east Texas, and activists show no sign of slowing down in the face of increasingly aggressive behavior by off-duty cops working as private security for TransCanada.
Firedoglake activists mobilized to call Wood County officials this week in opposition to TransCanada security’s bullying tactics. Our activists reported over 70 calls and I thought I would share some of those responses with all of you, and encourage you to join the effort by calling Wood County officials in response to TransCanada’s growing belligerence towards peaceful protesters and members of the press and public.
Through eminent domain proceedings, TransCanada has been able to undermine landholders’ ability to block construction crews from moving through their land, something family farmer Eleanor Fairchild found out the hard way when she was arrested for trespassing on her own property with actress Daryll Hannah.
Kevin writes at the Dissenter:
Fairchild has not signed a contract. The multinational corporation “expropriated her ranch through Texas eminent domain legal proceedings. She turned down the one-time settlement offered by the company.” TransCanada has also threatened land owners, who have changed their mind about turning over property to TransCanada for construction. The corporation faces multiple lawsuits for doing this to land owners.
Several of the offices we called told our activists they must contact the Sheriff with their complaints. We had expected this, but decided to target other offices to show officials across Wood County’s government that there is sincere public disgust over what’s going on in their backyard. The Sheriff’s Department is the primary employer of the off-duty police officers now working for TransCanada for $30/hour to rough up protesters and harass the public in uniform. As Wood County District Attorney’s Lead Investigator Jerry Hirsch explained rather bluntly to one FDL activist, “officers have to take off duty jobs to make enough money to survive.”
If Mr. Hirsch is to be believed, TransCanada is playing a dastardly game, hiring apparently underpaid officers to brutalize and harass their neighbors in order to make ends meet, and even though there’s a seemingly unanimous agreement among them that the oil giant’s conduct on their land is wrong, they each feel powerless to stop it.
Calls to the Sheriff’s office were repeatedly reported as being met with very rude responses. Sheriff’s Dept. employees were hanging up on people and generally ignoring or outright opposing their concerned calls. At one point, someone in the Sheriff’s office said that if we didn’t like what TransCanada was doing, we should call the company directly to complain — a response you don’t exactly expect to hear when you call the cops. “Hi, 911? I just got mugged…” “Sorry sir, you’ll have to call the mugger and take it up with him.”
While none of the offices called were immediately helpful, the District Attorney’s office — and Mr. Hirsch specifically — did have some interesting conversations with our activists.
The following are responses from the DA’s office, and Mr. Hirsch in particular, listed in chronological order. (Emphasis is mine)
There have been NO FORMAL COMPLAINTS filed against TransCanada thru the DA’s office. (And thus no formal investigation.) Mr. Hirsch referred to my concerns as “third hand stories” rather than legitimate issues. He was also kind of a prick. He wanted to know “just how” protestors and reporters were being “harassed.” I reiterated critical points….but didn’t make much progress. Time to take it to court, dontcha think? Staying tuned
Said the law officers disagree with what’s going on with Trans Canada but they have the law on their side. They have leased the property from the owners or have used eminent domaine to take the property (Mrs. Fairchild) and so the officers have to take the protesters off the property and it ends up being forceful at times. This man said that the protesters could be on the public roadway, down in the bar ditches or up on the shoulder of the road with their signs, etc. and be perfectly legal with their protests! But being on private land means they will be procecuted and end up with a felony record.
That investigator said they all agree with the protest but have no control over the law which was passed by the TX Legislature. Not surprising!!!
He said that the 2 reporters were wrongfully arrested and they refused to prosecute them. Most of the protesters are illegally trespassing and by law they had to arrest them. He also said that if they would stand 100 feet away on public property they would not be arrested. He ALSO said that they were opposed to the pipeline as is the community and do not like arresting these people. he was very helpful
They’re dropping charges against the NYTimes reporters because they believe in the First Amendment. Don’t know yet which ADA will be assigned to prosecute Eleanor Fairchild. Law enforcement supports the landowners’ cause regarding eminent domain, but object to the methods by which the protesters are protesting. Can’t they just move onto the public sidewalk ? Mr. Hirsch said it’s mindboggling that a foreign corporation should be able to come into the US and appropriate private property under eminent domain.
He said he agrees with the protesters, but that they are clearly violating the law by trespassing on private property. If they would just move back 100 feet toward the road they could be as effective but avoid trespassing. He says many of the deputy sheriffs are sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, but that they are required to enforce the law regarding trespass.
I told Mr. Hirsch that I am an attorney and practiced in Texas for 19 years. If he’s right about the 100 feet, and he ought to know, the protesters should take heed. He said they don’t want to give these young people criminal records, etc. I don’t know the facts, I’m just reporting what he said. He also said they will not back the arrests of the journalists, nor their prosecution.
And finally, Madeline writes:
I had an amazing conversation with Inspector Hearsh. He spoke to me for about a half hour. These are some of the highlights of this conversation:
I told him that I knew several of the protesters, that they were really good kids, that I had been protesting and testifying and speaking out about the pipeline for a couple of years and that my husband was the Houston Sierra Club energy chair.
Inspector Hearsh told me he doesn’t want the pipeline in his county any more than we do, that he knows it is terrible, and that he is concerned about the chemicals the pipeline is carrying. But he (in my words) is between a rock and a hard place. He said his officers have to take off duty jobs to make enough money to survive. I told him I thought Trans Canada’s hiring of them was a conflict of interest and they should be discouraged from working for Trans Canada. He said he understood.
I told him that Trans Canada was in violation of the common carrier law in its exercising eminent domain. I told him that I knew that property owners were receiving low offers and were being threatened with seizure of their land if they did not comply. He implied that that problem was really severe.
I explained what I thought the protesters civil rights were and what the press’ civil rights were. We talked about the protesters and why they did what they did and he said he wished that they would stay 100 ft from the construction so they wouldn’t get arrested. I told him that the press wasn’t covering the protests (or many others in Houston for that matter) and generally wouldn’t unless someone got arrested. He then asked me to tell the people on the blockade that if they felt they had to get arrested and were arrested to please comply with the officer’s instructions because he did not want to see people injured and because he hated the repercussions arrested ones would be facing down the line from these arrests.
I also told this inspector that I was 65 years old and was not on the blockade line for that reason. I told him that Ron Seifert (who he was of course familiar with) had spent two years working on this issue and had spent one of them biking across the US with another person to teach people about the problems of the pipeline. I told him that Ron had stayed in our house several times and that I thought so highly of Ron that I had told my husband that I wished we could adopt him as a son!
At the end of the conversation, I gave Mr. Hearsh my name and phone number and told him that if he wanted to talk to someone about the pipeline and the blockaders to please call me and he graciously accepted my number. As an activist in Houston who has so often had to deal with hostile and arrogant police, I left this phone call absolutely amazed. I think it is so important that we try to communicate as fellow human beings and this time I was able to connect. Maybe there is an approach to dealing with this pipeline construction in East Texas that brings all of us together that we have not thought of yet. I would truly hope that that might be true.
We’ll keep calling Wood County officials until the municipality stands up for its citizens against TransCanada’s abuse, and we’ll keep posting the responses here at FDL as they come in.