Crime

Jury acquits grandmas who chained themselves to equipment at Tacoma’s LNG construction site

Puget Sound Energy is constructing a $310 million liquified natural gas (LNG) facility, seen here in October 2017, at the Port of Tacoma. A number of groups oppose the plant and have engaged in protests against it.
Puget Sound Energy is constructing a $310 million liquified natural gas (LNG) facility, seen here in October 2017, at the Port of Tacoma. A number of groups oppose the plant and have engaged in protests against it. phaley@thenewstribune.com

A jury found two protesters who chained themselves to equipment at a liquified natural gas plant under construction in Tacoma not guilty Thursday of criminal trespass and obstructing an officer.

Marilyn Kimmerling and Cynthia Linet were two of six who attached themselves to a drilling rig at the site May 17.

“The people of Tacoma have won a great victory today,” Kimmerling, 69, said following the verdict.

A city spokeswoman confirmed the verdict.

Attorney Blake Kremer, who represented Kimmerling, said all six protesters were charged with criminal trespass and obstructing an officer.

The other four took deals that mean their cases will be dismissed if they avoid further trouble with the law.

Kimmerling and Linet decided to go to trial.

“We were the perfect defendants,” Linet said. “Two little old ladies — one a grandmother, one a great grandmother — who felt very strongly on this issue.”

Linet, 79, said she believes the verdict will encourage others to take part in civil disobedience when they believe community safety is at stake.

A coalition of activist groups that has protested the Puget Sound Energy plant said they tried to go through official channels to stop the project for more than a year, without success.

“Existing laws and elected officials are not protecting our community or the planet from the expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure which is contributing to planetary destruction,” one of those groups, Tacoma Direct Action, said in press releases about the several-day trial. “Cynthia, Marilyn and their supporters believe that their actions were in the best interests of the planet and future generations.”

Protesters argue the plant is dangerous and illegal. PSE has disputed that and has said that, while it is willing to listen to concerns about the project, breaking into a heavy construction site is unsafe.

“The plant is not completed yet, but they felt that it was a serious imminent risk,” Kremer said about Kimmerling’s and Linet’s actions.

Ultimately, Kremer said, the jurors didn’t believe the city established that the LNG protesters had been on Tacoma land.

Ramona Bennett, chair of the Puyallup Tribal Council during the 1970s, testified at the trial.

“The court in this case agreed that she is an expert on tribal property ownership,” Kremer said. “In that status she testified very effectively to the jury that this is in fact tribal property and that litigation continues over the property rights that the tribe has lost.”

Charging papers give this account of the protest:

The six who were later charged ran through the gate of the facility when an employee opened it shortly after 5 a.m. One used a bicycle lock around his neck and the others used PVC pipes on their forearms to attach themselves to equipment at the site on the Tacoma Tideflats.

Police arrived, and a project manager told them the demonstration was costing the company $3,000 an hour.

The six refused to leave and at about 7:20 were arrested.

“We were there on the invitation of the Puyallup people,” Kimmerling said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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