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Activists were 'lawfully and peacefully protesting,' attorney says



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August 06, 2014 - Two men arrested July 24 in Oxford Township while protesting against the Canada-based Enbridge company are contesting the charges against them.

"Their position is that they were lawfully and peacefully protesting," said Ann Arbor attorney Denise Heberle, who's representing the men through the Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. "They came to the site with no intent to break any laws."

Alan Smith, 50, of Indiana, and Jacob McGraw, 31, of Milford were arraigned July 25 in Rochester Hills 52-3 District Court on the misdemeanor charges of mass picketing and failure to comply with an order or direction from a police officer. The mass picketing charge stems from the law's prohibition on obstructing or interfering with the entrance to or egress from a place of employment.

If convicted, the men face up to 93 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. Both men were released on personal bond and are due back in court Aug. 7.

McGraw and Smith were part of a protest staged by the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI CATS) to commemorate the fourth anniversary of an estimated 843,000-gallon oil spill near Marshall, Michigan caused by a rupture in Enbridge's Line 6B.

Line 6B is a 285-mile crude oil pipeline that stretches from Indiana to Canada.

The men were among approximately 12 to 14 protesters who were walking back and forth along the Polly Ann Trail, which runs across the driveway leading in and out of Koenig Sand & Gravel on Lakeville Rd.

Enbridge has been leasing part of the Koenig site and using it as the main construction staging area for the final phase of its replacement of Line 6B, which runs through both Oxford and Addison townships.

Oakland County Sheriff's officers said McGraw was deliberately trying to block the driveway by walking in front of moving vehicles entering and exiting the Koenig site. He allegedly disobeyed three warnings from officers and was arrested when he allegedly did it a fourth time and argued with an officer.

Following McGraw's arrest, Smith allegedly stood out in the middle of the driveway. Officers said he, too, ignored three warnings and was arrested.

Heberle said her clients were not trying to intentionally disobey the police.

"There was a miscommunication between the (protest) organizers and the police officers about where they were allowed to be," she said. "It was either a miscommunication or it was a misunderstanding or it was police officers just getting frustrated. Whatever it was, it was not a violation of the law."

Ultimately, Heberle said her clients "believe that they violated no laws."

"They didn't prevent any work from being done," she said. "They obeyed and were cooperative with the officers."

Heberle said the demonstrators were walking back and forth across the Koenig driveway, "but when traffic came, they would allow it to pass."

"It wasn't any kind of a blockade or anything like that," she said. "It was an educational (demonstration that was) trying to bring some attention to Enbridge and to the disasters they've caused. It doesn't get reported very much in the mainstream press."

Protests like the one in Oxford are, according to Heberle, meant "primarily to raise awareness and let people who are living in these areas (with Enbridge pipelines) know what kind of danger they're being threatened with."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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