Kootenai County Judge Dismisses Megaload Monitor Charge


On Wednesday, April 11, in Idaho’s First District Court, Judge Robert Caldwell dismissed an infraction for failure to use a vehicle safety restraint imposed on organizer Helen Yost of the Moscow, Idaho-based climate change activist group, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT).  Idaho State Police (ISP) Corporal Ronald Sutton charged Yost with the seat belt infraction and a misdemeanor of resisting and obstructing an officer early on August 27, 2011, when she subsequently refused to identify herself, citing Idaho codes regarding passenger IDs and seat belts in non-moving vehicles (see the attached Early Summary of Megaload Monitor Case).

The incident occurred as Sutton covered his regular patrol route on Highway 95, south of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, just before midnight on August 26.  When he noticed a Toyota 4Runner parked for a few minutes near milepost 421, he approached its four female occupants who had been traveling for about an hour in the vicinity of an ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil tar sands transport and convoy of a dozen pilot trucks, flagger vehicles, and state trooper cars.  On the previous night, six WIRT activists had sat, stood, laid down, and effectively blocked the same 200-foot-long, 400,000-pound, two-lane-wide “megaload” for a half hour as it traversed a gauntlet of 150 protesters in downtown Moscow, Idaho.

Corporal Sutton accused driver and WIRT member Sharon Cousins of the infraction of stopping in an emergency lane of a limited access highway, a charge that a Kootenai County prosecutor dismissed on November 18.  Sutton noticed that WIRT spokesperson Helen Yost and visiting activist Cici Claar were not wearing their seat belts in the back seat and requested their identification.  Both passengers refused to present their IDs or give their names, stating that they had violated no laws.  Two ISP troopers on the scene issued infraction citations to all three women and arrested and jailed Claar and Yost for alleged obstruction.

During the Wednesday trial in Coeur d’Alene, Corporal Sutton testified that he had not seen either of the co-defendants not wearing their safety restraints while the vehicle moved north along the megaload route.  He further revealed that ISP officers assigned to the convoy had told him that the women had posed problems by parking off and along the mostly two-lane-wide road earlier in the evening.  (For a description of court proceedings, listen to an interview with Helen Yost, Wild Idaho Rising Tide Monitor Seatbelt Infraction Dismissed, between 14:54 and 8:30 of the April 11 KRFP Evening Report, Shiva, ACLU, Yost…

Dozens of Idaho and Montana citizens have monitored Imperial Oil shipments since February 1, 2011, motivated by their concerns about dangerous and threatening convoy practices, restricted and risky traveler access to roads, and megaload use and damage of their narrow, scenic, rural highways as permanent corridors to climate-wrecking Alberta tar sands operations (see KLEW TV footage of Citizens Give First-Hand Account on Monitoring Megaloads).  For the court record on April 11, Helen Yost disclosed her shared experience that Idaho troopers routinely ran license plate checks of vehicles on Highways 12 and 95 during megaload passages and even positioned a camera along Highway 12 for this purpose during the first ExxonMobil transport.  She stated that Idaho state police purposely and systematically targeted, intimidated, harassed, and, in her case arrested, megaload monitors as they scrutinized oil company invasions of taxpayer maintained U.S. highways.

At the April 11 infraction case trial, the Kootenai County Court agreed with Ms. Yost’s attorney, Ben Onosko of the Northern Rockies Justice Center in Moscow, and ruled that the infraction charge was based on state trooper speculation that the SUV passengers had not been wearing their seat belts while the vehicle was earlier in motion.  Judge Caldwell also noted that the three police-generated photos of back seat clutter provided insufficient evidence of safety restraint blockage and subsequent lack of use.

In the associated misdemeanor pre-trail hearing on February 17, attorney Karen Lindholdt presented a motion to suppress Claar’s and Yost’s obstruction charges, as arresting officers had no lawful reason, besides unwarranted parking and seat belt infractions, to ask for the passengers’ IDs.  Idaho state troopers consequently violated both defendants’ Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.  Although Kootenai County Judge Caldwell dismissed this motion, megaload monitors and their regional resistance community anticipate plenty of prevailing arguments concerning civil rights, constitutional case law, and corporate police states at the ensuing jury trial of Helen Yost, commencing at 8:30 am on May 14, near the second alternative interstate megaload route in Coeur d’Alene.

(WIRT media release)

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One thought on “Kootenai County Judge Dismisses Megaload Monitor Charge

  1. Pingback: Has the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations lost its way? – Keeping Sweet in Seattle

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