FARMINGTON – It took a jury less than 15 minutes Tuesday to find two activists guilty of failing to disperse during a protest last summer of the Kibby Mountain wind power project.
During the sentencing Tuesday afternoon in Franklin Superior Court in Farmington, Justice Michaela Murphy said the activists, a Minnesota woman and Vermont man, went beyond peaceful protest when they helped block a tractor-trailer delivering a massive wind turbine blade.
“This could have turned into a very dangerous situation,” Justice Murphy said.
Willow A. Cordes-Eklund, 27, and Erik J. Gillard, 27, were each sentenced to serve 10 days in Franklin County Detention Center in Farmington and ordered to pay a $500 fine.
They are both members of the Earth First! movement that planned the protest July 6, where dozens of protesters clashed with law enforcement officials on Route 27 in Chain of Ponds Township.
Justice Murphy said the sentence, which was harsher than what the prosecution asked for, had to send a message about endangering innocent bystanders during protests.
It was not a peaceful protest because the tractor-trailer driver was accosted and threatened for “just trying to make a living,” she said.
Police, judges and government officials sign up for a certain amount of abuse from the public, but the truck driver was just doing his job without any ties to the politics of wind power, she said.
Cordes-Eklund, of Minneapolis, used a bicycle lock to chain herself by the neck to the tractor trailer during the protest, and was arrested after police had to cut the lock.
Gillard, of Plainville, Vt., jumped onto the tractor trailer by the driver’s door, and was arrested by a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Other protesters surrounded the two Maine State Police troopers escorting the delivery to the site of the TransCanada wind power project in northern Franklin County.
Leaving the courthouse, Gillard’s attorney, Lynne Williams, said the sentence was not supported by evidence presented during the trial.
It also goes against certain First Amendment rights for protesters, she said, citing legal protections for people to protest private businesses.
“I think she was out of line,” Williams, of Bar Harbor, said, referring to Justice Murphy’s statements about the driver being targeted and accosted by protesters.
Franklin County Assistant District Attorney James Andrews asked the court for a lighter sentence, with the activists paying a $500 fine or choosing to serve 100 hours of community service in Maine.
The misdemeanor charge of failure to disperse has a maximum sentence of 364 days in prison.
After the trial, Andrews called the sentence appropriate and said, in asking for the lighter penalty, he hadn’t looked at the protest as an offense against a private individual.
Video and audio recordings presented during the two-day trial showed the truck driver screaming at protesters.
Law enforcement officials and the driver are shown trying to pull protesters away from the tractor-trailer, just before Cordes-Eklund chained herself to the bottom of the tractor-trailer.
Defense attorneys argued during the trial that the activists had been charged with the wrong crime. They said the prosecution couldn’t prove police ordered protesters to disperse, along with other reasons required to charge someone with failing to disperse.
Law enforcement officials had broken up a demonstration at the project site earlier that day, and many of the same protesters then drove about a mile away on Route 27, where they blocked the tractor-trailer.
Maine State Police Trooper Peter Michaud testified that at the project site he read a prepared order to disperse, which warned protesters against trying to block traffic on Route 27.
While Cordes-Eklund testified she didn’t hear the order, she and Gillard both admitted under cross-examination to knowing they could be arrested for blocking the tractor-trailer.
Williams said after the trial they may have been guilty of obstructing a public way or criminal trespassing but not failure to disperse.
After the trial, Cordes-Eklund and Gillard defended their actions during the protest, calling it an act of civil disobedience.
“The July 6 actions at Kibby Mountain are part of a larger campaign to protect the wilderness in Maine from development,” Gillard said.
There were 22 wind turbines on Kibby Mountain during the protest, which tried to stop the delivery of parts for an additional 22 turbines at the site, as well as to oppose a plan to build another 15 turbines on neighboring Sisk Mountain.
The Land Use Regulation Commission in January approved a plan to build 11 turbines on Sisk Mountain, and Friends of the Boundary Mountains has filed an appeal to the Maine Supreme Court to overturn the approval.
The two other protesters arrested July 6 accepted plea deals Monday.
Courtney A. Butcher, 26, pleaded no contest to a charge of failure to disperse, being ordered to pay a $100 fine and $60 in court fees.
A charge of criminal trespassing against Butcher, of Pine River, Minn., was dropped as part of the deal.
Ana I. Rodriguez, pleaded guilty to failure to disperse. Her plea deal has a deferred disposition that requires Rodriguez, 30, of Lake Worth, Fla., to perform 50 hours of community service and will dismiss the charges if she refrains from criminal conduct for 12 months.
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