Enviros appear to have ‘staged’ SUV hitting protester — police
Scott Streater, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Two environmental groups are asking the Bureau of Land Management to investigate an incident in which they say an agency-contracted auctioneer struck a climate protester with his SUV shortly after presiding over an oil and gas lease sale in Colorado.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Rainforest Action Network yesterday submitted a letter to BLM Colorado State Director Ruth Welch urging the agency “to fully and immediately investigate its contractor’s responsibility for the incident and the apparent use of violence and intimidation to retaliate against members of the public for the exercise of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.”
But a local police department that investigated the November incident outside BLM Colorado’s headquarters in Lakewood, Colo., said it found no criminal wrongdoing and has long since closed the matter.
What’s more, the Lakewood Police Department said, the Nov. 12 incident appeared to have been “staged” by the groups, and the protester pretended to have been struck by the SUV, a police spokesman said.
At issue is a protest by supporters of a movement lobbying to stop all oil and gas and coal extraction on federal lands — dubbed the “Keep It in the Ground” movement — which has resulted in BLM postponing some recent oil and gas lease sales.
Members of the Center for Biological Diversity, the Rainforest Action Network and others gathered at a rally to protest the lease sale outside BLM’s Colorado headquarters in November and were apparently blocking one of the exits of the agency’s parking lot.
The groups released a YouTube video that shows protesters in a circle in the parking lot chanting, “Keep it in the ground, keep it in the ground.” A white SUV pulls close to the group and honks. The video shows a protester suddenly falling to the ground, although the SUV does not appear to have moved much, if at all.
The SUV backs up and honks again. Within seconds, Lakewood police officers approach the vehicle and the protesters before the video ends.
The two-page letter to Welch, signed by Michael Saul, a CBD senior attorney, and Ruth Breech, senior climate and energy campaigner with the Rainforest Action Network, says the protester was taken to the hospital for observation.
“We deferred an investigation to the proper authorities, the Lakewood Police Department, given that the incident involved private individuals in a public right-of-way,” Steven Hall, a BLM spokesman in Lakewood, said in an email.
Steve Davis, a Lakewood Police Department spokesman, said the department’s review does not line up with the environmental groups’ account of the incident. Davis said the department has fully investigated the matter and there “really never was a case” to pursue.
“No, there is no open investigation,” Davis said. “There really never was a case, although we did on scene check out what had taken place.”
In response to questions from a reporter, Davis said he contacted a police commander who had been at the BLM headquarters the day of the auction and at the scene at the time of the incident.
“It appeared to our people that this incident appeared to have been staged,” Davis said.
He added, “The auctioneer was leaving [the parking lot] at about 2 mph, I’m told, and one of the protesters ran out in front the vehicle and obviously just laid down and started making the accusation that they were hit by the vehicle.”
Davis said police reviewed the video the protesters took and concluded that it “corroborated exactly what I just told you.”
“Our people told the auctioneer to just leave,” he said. “There was never a summons issued to either side of this. Our biggest concern at the time was keeping the peace between the protesters and the BLM property and all that. So again, the short answer to your question is no, there is no open investigation.”
Nor will there be, Davis said.
“It is certainly an open-and-shut incident as far as we’re concerned,” he said.
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