NEWPORT, VT - The publisher of the Barton Chronicle, along with six Lowell Mountain protesters, was arraigned Tuesday morning to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful trespass in Orleans Superior Court, Criminal Division. He entered a not guilty plea.
Chris Braithwaite, 67, of West Glover, chose to enter his plea himself as his attorney, Phil White, could not be present. Judge Robert Gerety, Jr. released Braithwaite on the condition that he show up to court for future hearings.
White has already entered a motion to dismiss. A motion hearing is scheduled for January 26 at 9 AM.
Braithwaite was covering a protest on the Lowell mountain ridgeline on Dec. 5 when a group of protesters moved on to the crane path where Green Mountain Power (GMP) is constructing an industrial scale wind turbine project. The protesters blocked construction vehicles and caused delays for nearly two hours.
Law enforcement arrived and asked all to leave the site, including Braithwaite, or face arrest. Braithwaite was told by police that he had no special privilege to be there covering the event as he was on GMP property.
Braithwaite said if he moved off the site he could not do his job properly.
Since then GMP has invited Braithwaite back to the construction site and he has gone through the safety training. Braithwaite was also told that when he plans to visit the site, all he has to do is call and someone will provide him with safety equipment.
Braithwaite has said he needed to observe the arrests to make sure they were done properly.
“He did not aid, abet, encourage, or incite the protesters; nor did he in any other way participate as a protester," White wrote in the motion to dismiss. White goes on to say that Braithwaite’s presence did not add to any damage that may have been caused to the interests of property owners. White argued that when a property owner requests the assistance of the government, the property owner implicitly waives a right to object to the presence of the press who are monitoring the events.
White states that if the matter moves forward, Braithwaite will assert that the press should have the protection of the First Amendment and the Vermont Constitution to cover protests on private property and the government’s response to those protests. White also draws parallels to the acts of civil disobedience 50 years ago when four black men “trespassed” by sitting at the lunch counter at W.W. Woolworth in North Carolina, the presence of a reporter to cover the sit-in event, and the escalating violence that followed and eventually lead to racial integration.
According to an affidavit from Deputy Daniel Locke, Dave Coriell with Green Mountain Power called the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department to report that a group of individuals were trespassing and refused to leave when asked to do so. The sheriff’s department responded to the call along with a state police detective.
The group of protesters, along with Braithwaite, were taken into custody without incident and transported to the state police barracks in Derby where they were processed and released.
In a statement from Coriell, he said that none of the protesters were wearing the proper safety equipment, nor had any been through the safety training. He also stated that at no time were any given permission to be there.