By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
DEQ did set up folding chairs and loudspeakers outside the hearing room for the overflow crowd to listen in. But it refused to move the entire hearing outside out of fear that activists might throw rocks. "We encouraged DEQ to have a contingency plan just in case there were too many people," says David Schmidt of the Environmental Protection Agency. "We encouraged them to have another meeting time and place, but DEQ didn't take that advice."
Instead, DEQ took steps to keep the public out. DEQ set up 100 chairs inside the room, claiming that the state fire marshal would only permit that many seats. But DEQ had never contacted the fire marshal.
In a sworn deposition, Arthur Snapp of the state Fire Marshal's Office said that if he had been asked, he would have told DEQ that a room the size of the one in Mobile could hold about two and a half times as many people as DEQ set up chairs for that evening. DEQ's false claim that seating limitations were imposed by the state fire marshal merely served as a ruse to limit citizen input.
At the meeting, many of those chairs that were set up were occupied, witnesses say, by DEQ, EPA and ENSCO employees. "The plan was to fill the room with happy, smiling faces," claims Ed Vance, an attorney for four persons arrested at the hearing. In a DEQ memo distributed before the hearing, the state agency urged its employees to arrive early and sit together. "All DEQ employees who are not otherwise assigned to a job . . . should sit together in the designated DEQ section," the memo said. Officials later said that no such section existed.
Limits on free speech went beyond the seating arrangement. The most blatant restriction on the public's First Amendment rights was a DEQ-imposed prohibition against displaying banners or placards in the hearing room. "A blanket rule from the beginning, regardless of where the signs are and regardless if they are blocking anybody's view, that strikes me as very questionable," says Professor Paul Bender, ASU's constitutional authority.
Finally, there was the chilling presence of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which turned out in numbers guaranteed to handle any possible outbreak of unruly public opinion. The Sheriff's Office brought in at least 48 deputies and canine units, as well as a helicopter. The deputies also set up a mass-arrest booking center at a nearby airport. "It was like they were going to invade a country," remembers Brian Nicholas, who was arrested at the hearing but never formally charged. DEQ and the Sheriff's Office did have reason to believe members of Greenpeace might act up at the hearing. Greenpeace activists had halted a similar public hearing in California. They later demonstrated at ENSCO's Mobile facility, chaining themselves to fences and construction equipment in April 1990. Angel claims that Greenpeace had no intention of shutting down this public hearing.
The state was so determined that this last meeting was going to come off that it wasn't prepared to accept the consequences of a boisterous assembly. Accordingly, the Sheriff's Office prepared for the worst. DEQ had given deputies a videotape of the California hearing. Photos of Angel and others involved in stopping construction at the ENSCO site were also shown to deputies.
Just before the meeting, a deal was made. Sheriff's commanders say DEQ officials agreed they would point out people to be arrested if the meeting got disruptive. "The only arrests we were going to make at that time, if it was, you know, a homicide or an aggravated assault or something like that had happened in front of us," said Captain Phillip Babb of the Sheriff's Office. "As far as the demonstrators go, I would look to them [DEQ]." That agreement, says ASU's Bender, is also questionable. "Normally, you would say if the police see someone that is out of control, then arrest him. The notion that they would only listen to DEQ, that alone sounds like the arrests were more politically motivated."
The current lawsuits against the county and state charge that the arrests were part of a conspiracy to deny members of the public their First Amendment rights.
"The agreement between DEQ and the MCSO in which non-law-enforcement-trained DEQ employees 'point out' citizens to be arrested . . . is so outrageous that it is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable," the suit proclaims.
Since DEQ denies such an agreement was made, verifying exactly what role DEQ had in the arrests might have been resolved by a DEQ video of the hearing. But that video mysteriously shuts off immediately before the arrests begin, about five minutes into the meeting. When it comes back on, a woman is shouting, "Now that you have the public out, what?", and the meeting continues. In court documents, attorneys charge that the portion of the tape that would have shown the arrests was edited out, which DEQ denies. The employee who filmed the meeting, Paul Donovan, tells New Times he "stopped it for a while when all the trouble began, because people were knocking around." Did anybody ask him to stop the tape? "I'm not going to answer that," Donovan says. @rule: