Judge dismisses charges against ‘100 Grannies 5’ over oil pipeline protest
ANDY DAVIS May 24, 2017
Disappointed they will not have their day in court to explain environmental threats posed by the Dakota Access Pipeline, the “100 Grannies 5,” as they’ve come to be known, say they still will continue their fight against the pipeline.
On Monday, Lee County Judge Gary Noneman dismissed trespassing charges leveled against the five women after they were arrested on Oct. 1 for protesting work on the pipeline where it travels below the Mississippi River near Sandusky, Ia., in southeast Lee County.
The five women are Ann Christenson, 80, Miriam Kashia, 74, Georgiane Perret, 72, Aaron Silander, 67, and Mary Beth Versgrove, 64. A news release from their attorney, Rockne Cole, said the women are disappointed by the dismissal. “We still want to keep this pipeline in the public eye because the more we investigated it and the more we worked on our defense, the more hazardous we could see that it is and all the egregious lawlessness that the Iowa Utilities Board and the state have practiced to push this through,” said Christenson, adding: “This isn’t over. They may be pumping, but we’re not done.”
Assistant Lee County Attorney Clinton Boddicker said he filed the motion to dismiss on Friday.
Boddicker said the attorney’s office had difficulty finding police reports from Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies related to the arrests; witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the facts of the protest; and said representatives from the pipeline’s owners, Energy Transfer Partners, declined to provide in-court testimony.
“I’ve talked to (Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber) about what we would do in a similar circumstance if this ever happened in the future. The sheriff ’s deputies now have body cameras, and that probably would have gone a long way to making those cases more approvable,” Boddicker said. “They have that capability and didn’t at the time.”
Christenson said on they day of the protest, the 100 Grannies 5 were joined by other grannies and members of several other activist groups, some from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota, comprising a group of about 100 people.
Kashia has said the group made its way from a road near the Mississippi River up a bluff, through a wooded area and a crop field before they reached the work site, which was about a third of the size of a football field.
Protesters knocked down a chain-link fence that surrounded the worksite, the women said, and officers and security guards at the work site immediately began making arrests.
Some 20 to 30 demonstrators were arrested and taken to the Lee County Jail to be processed, Christenson said. Perret, who had been arrested two weeks earlier at a Sept. 17 protest for blocking a service road to the site, has said she spent the night of Oct. 1 in jail. She pleaded guilty to the Oct. 1 arrest but pleaded not guilty to the prior arrest, which also was dismissed Monday.
Leaders of Energy Transfer Partners earlier this month said the company planned to finish filling the 1,172-mile line with crude oil by May 14, shipping it from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to a distribution hub in Patoka, Ill. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger has said contracts with shippers are set to begin June 1.
“Ordinarily, we would be thrilled with a dismissal; however, today, we are saddened. While the legal risks to us have gone away, the risks posed by the pipeline remain,” 100 Grannies member Versgrove said in the news release.
Though the cases are over, Christensen said the five women are heartened by continued efforts of other protesters across the state and along the pipeline’s path.
“There are a lot of people fighting, and although it can get discouraging there are wonderful people doing wonderful things, and we’re just trying to do what we can, too,” Christenson said.
Boddicker said he still is working on other cases related to the Oct. 1 protest. He said about three demonstrators have not appeared in court for their proceedings and have warrants out for their arrest, and two other demonstrators are facing trial on trespassing and interference charges.
Reach Andy Davis at 319-887-5404 or at aldavis @press-citizen.com, and follow him on Twitter as @BylineAndyDavis