Eighteen of 28 Nez Perce arrested during megaload protests enter denials to charges.
At least 18 of the 28 Nez Perce tribal members charged with creating a public nuisance during protests against a megaload shipment last month will fight the charges in Nez Perce Tribal Court.
At their individual admit-deny hearings on Friday morning, September 20, in Lapwai, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee members Brooklyn Baptiste, 41, Leotis McCormack, 31, Anthony Johnson, 43, Albert Barros, 61, and Samuel Penney, 58, joined Greg L. Crow, 38, Ciarra S. Greene, 24, Delrae Kipp, 44, David F. Penney, Angela R. Picard, 32, Sally R. Rohan, 19, Lucy A. Samuels, 23, Paulette M. Smith, 44, Carla J. Timentwa, 56, and Nicole S. Twomoon, 29, in denying the veracity of the charges against them.
All were arrested following the August 5-8 protests of an Omega Morgan megaload shipment. The transport firm encountered four nights of protests, while hauling an evaporator through the Nez Perce Reservation on U.S. Highway 12, en route to the Canadian tar sands.
Executive committee member Joel Moffett, 34, did not appear in court on Friday but did enter his denial to the charge, essentially an innocent plea, with Chief Nez Perce Tribal Court Judge Bruce Plackowski.
Executive committee Chairman Silas Whitman, 71, also did not appear in court but “accepted” the charge, pleading guilty and receiving a $100 fine.
“I did what I did to get it out of the way,” Whitman said. “For me, my main concern is the megaloads.”
While he said that the point has already been made for him, Whitman lauded other individuals for their choice to fight the charges.
“They’re fine to do it,” he said, calling inaction the only wrong choice. “I just demand that everyone speak their minds – do something.”
Danita Burch, 20, was the only person who appeared in court on Friday to plead guilty to the charges against her. Mary E. Ellenwood, 46, failed to appear in court and, by default, will be forced to pay the $100 fine.
Plackowski allowed for a postponement of accept-deny hearings for Cody Moses and Salina D. Fivethunders, 20, on the basis of a family medical issue.
The other nine people charged, including executive committee member Daniel Kane, 55, Samuel J. Davis, 38, Anthony Higheagle Jr., 45, Alicia J. Oatman, 36, Johnae L. Wasson, 25, Letitia H. Whitman, 33, and Christine L. Guzman, 50, did not appear in court. Plackowski attributed this partly to a failure to receive notice via mail.
All arrested had been charged with disorderly conduct upon their initial detention, along with several counts of resisting arrest. Special Prosecutor Michael Cherasia, a Troy-based attorney who was appointed by the Nez Perce Tribe to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, lessened the charges to public nuisance – a civil infraction – after reviewing the cases.
“In the interest of justice,” Cherasia said, “I felt public nuisance was the most appropriate charge.”
Cherasia said that, while the incident in front of the Clearwater River Casino was a heated exchange, only a few of the protesters allegedly resisted arrest. The protest was largely peaceful, according to Cherasia, as police were not forced to use their Tasers or batons to control the crowd.
Paulette Smith, one of the members initially charged with resisting arrest, said the real crime was the treatment of protesters by police.
“Emotions ran high,…and they were not being professional,” she said, pleading innocent to her resistance of arrest charge. “It should have been peaceful. I was heartbroken.”
Executive committee member Anthony Johnson said that he will continue to fight the charge because he said the megaloads violated the tribe’s Treaty of 1855. So he said he took action and was within his right to do so.
“I viewed that as an illegal action because of its violation of the treaty,” he said of the megaloads.
McCormack, serving his first term on the executive committee, called for a dismissal of the charges, because the protesters were doing their duty as tribal members to protect the land he sees as a priceless resource.
“It’s not an economic value system, but it’s a spiritual value system. We don’t want to exploit it,” McCormack said. “We’re not trying to push our way of life on anybody, we’re just trying to say this is how we believe, so respect it.”
(By Dylan Brown, The Lewiston Tribune)