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Mining protesters accuse police of mistreatment

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A spokesman for an environmental group said they need to raise a half-million dollars' worth of property to bail out 20 activists arrested on misdemeanor charges during a demonstration this weekend.

More than 50 activists from the group, Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival, disrupted operations at Patriot Coal's Hobet Mining property for about three hours on Saturday. State Police charged 20 with trespassing and obstructing when they refused to leave the site. Some joined hands and others chained themselves to an explosives truck.

Matthew Louis-Rosenberg, a Sandstone resident and the group's spokesman, alleges that State Police cooperated with coal supporters and miners who showed up to intimidate them. State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said police support an individual's right to protest and showed no preferential treatment in enforcing the law.

The group began Saturday morning by organizing at a rented pavilion in Kanawha State Forest near the site between the Lincoln County and Boone County border, Louis-Rosenberg said.

Members of the group rallied behind their mission to stop coal companies from harming the environment and West Virginians' health through a nonviolent demonstration, he said. In the past, the group has been responsible for disrupting operations at mountaintop-removal sites by camping atop trees.

On Saturday, counterprotesters showed up near the mine site and the two parties began a healthy, civil dialogue about mountaintop removal coal mining, Louis-Rosenberg said. The two groups respected each other even though they disagreed, he said.

But later, he said, counterprotesters more hostile toward the RAMPS members showed up.

Eventually, about 50 RAMPS protesters walked onto the mine's property and began hanging signs from trees and an explosives truck. State Police and mine officials showed up and ordered the protesters to leave or be arrested. Twenty remained and had to be physically removed by police.

The protesters used the strategy of going limp, Louis-Rosenberg said.

"They were not actively refusing, but they were forcing themselves to be carried or dragged," he said. "It was somewhat of a rough process, but I did not hear about injuries. One woman was dragged offsite by her pigtails."

The 20 protesters are mostly state residents, he said. They were arraigned in Lincoln County Magistrate Court and are being held in Western Regional Jail, each in lieu of a $25,000 property bail.

The bails set by Lincoln Magistrate Mona Snodgrass are unreasonable for the misdemeanor charges the 20 are charged with, Louis-Rosenberg said.

"These are midlevel offenses," he said. "They [the court] will only take $25,000 worth of West Virginia property. They cannot take cash and we cannot use a bail bondsman."

He alleges that one member, Dustin Steele, 21, of Matewan, was assaulted by law enforcement while in custody. Louis-Rosenberg was unsure which agency allegedly carried out the assault and hoped to learn more by speaking to Steele.

The more than 30 protesters who left the site had to walk about four hours to the main road where shuttles were waiting, he said. He said shuttles had arranged to pick up the protesters, but troopers blocked them from entering the area.

He said troopers instead allowed miners and counterprotesters into the area to intimidate them.

Baylous said that claim is untrue and State Police would have arrested anyone trespassing or causing a disturbance.

"We don't give special treatment to anybody," Baylous said. "We enforce the laws, and that's our primary function."

Several videos were uploaded to social media websites allegedly depicting coal supporters chasing protesters, blasting air horns and threatening their safety.

Baylous said police would have arrested those threatening violence no matter their stance on environmental issues.

An independent journalist also was arrested before Saturday's protest.

Babette Hogan, 52, of San Francisco, told the Sunday Gazette-Mail she was taking photos from the passenger seat of a vehicle on Kanawha State Forest Drive when a trooper demanded her camera. When she refused, Hogan was arrested and charged with obstruction, she said.

Hogan said Monday she wanted to seek counsel from an attorney before she would speak about the incident again. Baylous said he needed more information before he could comment.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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