Sunday, December 11, 2016

Law Enforcement Answers Rail Blockade Questions

Above: Multi-jurisdictional law enforcement wait just before their advancement on the camp that blockaded Union Pacific tracks in the early morning hours of November 18 in downtown Olympia. 

City Manager Steve Hall on Blockade, Port, City Communications

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Little Hollywood has reached out to several entities involved with the November 18 raid on the rail blockade of Union Pacific tracks in downtown Olympia to get answers to lingering questions about the event.

By no means does the information gathered answer all questions, but it provides more information than has been offered in Port of Olympia or City of Olympia public meetings.

The rail blockade, begun by direct action activists in downtown Olympia on November 11, was in response to the Port of Olympia’s contract with Rainbow Ceramics and in solidarity with water protectors at Standing Rock. 

The Port of Olympia receives ships loaded with ceramic proppants, and transfers the cargo to trains bound for North Dakota or Wyoming. Ceramic proppants are used in the process of hydraulic fracking for gas and oil extraction.

As the week unfolded, new supporters joined the cause, creating a new group that collectively evolved and communicated with local officials in various capacities.

The blockade was broken up in the early morning hours of November 18 by a currently unknown number of Union Pacific special agents, the Washington State Patrol (WSP), Thurston County Sheriff’s Department, and the Olympia Police Department (OPD), with assistance from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department.

Washington State Patrol

According to Kyle Moore, government media relations staff for the Washington State Patrol, 23 troopers were involved in the November 18 operation. Troopers acted as observers, pilots and provided perimeter security.  

According to OPD, the Washington State Patrol also protected the train’s engineer, conductor, and the train as it left Olympia.

The Washington State Patrol used a Cessna aircraft to provide an aerial view of the demonstration to officers on the ground, which accounts for that persistent droning sound of small aircraft seen and heard frequently above downtown Olympia that week.   

Moore said that the total cost of the rail blockade, for both regular time and overtime, is $9,336.00.

Above: Thurston County Sheriff's Department officers participated in the escort of the Union Pacific train out of downtown Olympia on November 18.

Thurston County Sheriff’s Department

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Department was asked similar questions.

“We responded to the rail blockage under the umbrella of mutual aid, requested by Olympia Police Department. There were approximately 19 law enforcement officials from our agency that responded. Our role was to provide scene security for Union Pacific police. I am not certain of the final cost,” said Carla Carter, public information officer for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department last week.

Olympia Police Department

Olympia Police Department Lieutenants Paul Lower and Aaron Jelcick each answered Little Hollywood’s questions through email and in telephone interviews.

According to OPD, Union Pacific railroad special agents were in the lead, and in charge of the “clean-up” operation the morning of November 18.

A total of 46 OPD officers were present in different capacities.

Seven OPD sergeants were present, who oversaw the arrest team and conducted crowd control. Seven officers conducted traffic control and roved around the area in case marchers or protesters interfered with traffic. Two officers videotaped the process of arresting protesters and of alleged property damage. 

A still unknown number of officers were at the scene outside the Fish Tale Ale. Lt. Jelcick said that was a dynamic situation.

Above: At least 17 officers formed a line to prevent fewer than 15 protesters from being near the original blockade site. OPD says that some officers stayed inside and outside the perimeter to provide security for Union Pacific special agents as they cleared the tracks.

OPD used a pepper ball gun on protesters when the arrests started and when protesters starting climbing on moving vehicles. 

Pepper ball guns deploy a small plastic capsule that contains a little powder, an irritant, called capsaicin. When aimed at the ground, the capsule is broken open and a puff of pepper spray is released, causing people to move away.

Lt. Jelcick said he does not yet know how many capsules were used. The pepper ball gun can be used against people directly.

“It is the safest, lowest level crowd control option we have,” said Jelcick.

OPD also used flash bang grenades and threw three of them toward protesters outside the Fish Tale Ale to move them back off the tracks. The ones used were inert, says Lt. Jelcick, although he says the department does have the type of flash bang grenades that contain rubber bullets that go in all directions when used.

Lt. Jelcick says the department does not have or use tear gas.

Lt. Jelcick said two Lewis County Sheriff’s Department corrections officers assisted with transport of those arrested, and provided a vehicle for that purpose.

He said the Olympia Police Department did not videotape protesters or their camp prior to the raid.

A final cost for the operation has not yet been provided.

Olympia City Manager Steve Hall also answered more of Little Hollywood’s questions on December 9:

Little Hollywood: Where the protesters were camping, Olympia Stand says is “public land.” Is that true?  

Hall: No. It is public right of way. Any camping within right of way is not permitted. Could someone pitch a tent on Plum Street, which is right of way?  No. The same is true for the railroad tracks and blocking railroad trains.

For example, Olympia City Hall and Olympia Fire Department stations are public property, but a citizen cannot pitch a tent and camp in or on City Hall or Fire Department property. The demonstrators were asked to leave so that the railroad police could clear the adjacent tracks. Many left on their own - those who did not were arrested. I don’t know what charges were filed.

Little Hollywood: What was the city's position was for letting the protesters be there? 

Hall: The City did not direct the protestors to the land upon which they pitched tents and camped. The City attempted to resolve the protest peacefully and OPD warned the protestors that they had to leave or be subject to arrest.  Many chose to leave. The few who did not leave were subsequently arrested.

Little Hollywood: Are there any communications protocol currently in place that informs the city when hazardous cargo, such as the ceramic proppants, is running through the City of Olympia? 

Hall: It is my understanding that proppants are not considered hazardous cargo. They are ceramic coated sand or silica. They may be controversial, which is different than hazardous. I believe federal law dictates requirements if railroads carry hazardous cargoes such as chlorine but I don’t know what obligations they have to advise cities along the route.

Little Hollywood: I remember attending a joint city council-port meeting at was then the Phoenix Inn years ago. That was great. When was the last such joint meeting? 

Hall: Our last joint meeting with the Port was June 21, 2016. Items on the agenda were shared successes, sea level rise, the Downtown Strategy and the Nisqually Canoe journey. A variety of other minor issues were mentioned but I don’t recall if any mention was made of marine terminal cargo.

Little Hollywood: Have you and (port executive director) Ed Galligan sat down to discuss anything as suggested by Commissioner Downing in a recent port meeting? 

Hall: Ed and I have talked several times about a productive conversation(s) around this issue. At this time I don’t think a big formal meeting in a fishbowl would be productive. No council/commission meetings have been scheduled at this time.

Questions to Port, Rainbow Ceramics Asked, Still Unanswered

The Port of Olympia and Rainbow Ceramics have yet to respond to some of Little Hollywood’s questions regarding the disclosure of future shipments by rail. Questions were sent to Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan on November 30 and resent December 6. Other questions were submitted to the port's public records officer.

A representative of Rainbow Ceramics in Houston requested that I submit questions in writing, as she was unable to answer questions. She said she would submit the questions to their legal department. Little Hollywood did so on December 1 and awaits a response.

For more photos and information about the rail blockade, Olympia Stand, Olympia Police Department, Chief Roberts’ statement against ceramic proppants, the Port of Olympia, Ed Galligan, Rainbow Ceramics, and ceramic proppants, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.

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