Officers Deny Endangering, Assaulting Cove Point Activist

Heather Doyle in front of the Cove Point Lighthouse
Heather Doyle in front of the Cove Point Lighthouse

Prince Frederick, MD – The case for the prosecution continued in Calvert County Circuit Court on the second day of the trial of a Cove Point protester charged with making a false statement to police.

A year ago, defendant Heather Doyle and fellow protester Carling Sothoron had the tables turned on them when they filed an official complaint with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office. They claimed that they had been endangered and Doyle assaulted on February 3, 2015 when they conducted a publicity stunt to draw attention to Dominion Cove Point, a fracked gas export terminal. Unfortunately for the young women, not only did an internal investigation conclude that no deputies were at fault, the County filed charges against them for making a false statement to an officer. The charge carries the possibility of a lengthy jail sentence, up to six months. Sothoron’s case was placed on the stet docket last November, while Doyle pursued a jury trial.

This long-awaited trial, however, is yet another occurrence of a simmering controversy boiling to the surface in this otherwise quiet Southern Maryland county. Dominion Cove Point, a huge industrial project, has been the source of conflict pitting local government officials, who have staked the County’s financial future on its success, and residents living close to the terminal, who fear for their lives if the liquefaction facility goes into operation. The success or failure of Dominion Cove Point also has ramifications for the fracking industry and the build-up of gas infrastructure, as well as the overall polluting and climate changing effect of gas emissions.

On Wednesday, four additional law enforcement officers were called to the stand to testify. They had all been called to the construction site to deal with trespassers just before or just after dawn on the morning of February 3, 2015. They described finding Doyle and Sothoron on a crane boom at the site and gave their accounts about how Doyle was removed from her rope rigging system, transported to the ground and arrested.

Sgt. Vladimir Bortchevsky, who had been accused of deliberately stepping on Doyle’s chest and pressing his forearm against her throat, denied the allegations absolutely. He said that his boot had only briefly brushed her jacket. Other than that, he said that he held her shoulder while passing her to the officer below.

The defense attempted to impeach witnesses by pointing out various inconsistencies in their testimony, sometimes in comparison with statements made in interviews with the internal affairs officer investigating the complaint.

Dominion Cove Point has had a contractual relationship with Calvert County since 2007 in which it pays the salaries and benefits of ten deputies (now eleven deputies in fiscal year 2016) in exchange for security services. This year, Calvert County expects to receive almost $1.5 million in reimbursement from Dominion Cove Point for salaries, benefits, equipment and training.

Given the large line-up of witnesses yet to testify, the trial is unlikely to conclude on Thursday.