Defendants John O’Hara and Ken Ward were scheduled to go on trial for using a lobster boat to block freighter loaded with 40,000 tons of coal that was bound for the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset. It’s a charge the climate activists do not deny. They would argue that the threat of global warming is so great, the two men had to act.
That’s unusual enough. But then the bigger surprise came when Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter dropped the most serious charges against O’Hara and Ward. And, in front of a cheering crowd, Sutter said he agreed with the protesters.
Here’s a quote from D.A. Sam Sutter:
The decision that Robert Kidd and I, that[‘s] the Assistant District Attorney who handled this case, reached today was a decision that certainly took into consideration the cost to the taxpayers in Somerset, but was made with our concern for their children, the children of Bristol County and beyond in mind. Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced.
Now the D.A. has said that he thinks the protesters broke the law:
I have a great sympathy with what these two gentlemen did, but I do disagree with their action, obviously, because it broke the law.
Yet because “this was an act of civil disobedience,” Sutter said, “this should be treated as a civil infraction.” According to PRI’s quote of one of the protesters, the protesters were required only to “pay $2,000 restitution to the Somerset police and the state police for their overtime charges essentially.”
And it seems pretty clear that Sutter wasn’t just announcing a general policy that “civil disobedience” (for instance, when people blockade abortion clinics out of moral conviction) should generally “be treated as a civil infraction” even when it may constitute a crime. Sutter was acting as he did because he agreed with the protesters’ policy views, and the protesters’ sense that their policy positions were important and urgent.
So the message is clear: If you are engaging in legal behavior that Bristol County D.A. Sam Sutter sufficiently dislikes, and people are criminally interfering with this behavior, don’t expect the criminal law to protect you by deterring such misbehavior; and if you are committing a crime to express a viewpoint that D.A. Sutter likes, you could be free of criminal prosecution. Next stop — no criminal prosecution of people who blockade fur shops? Gun stores? Any other business that the D.A. believes isn’t worthy of full legal protection?