Cove Point Defender Convicted of Making False Statement to Police

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

Prince Frederick, MD — A jury found an activist who has opposed the Dominion Cove Point project guilty of making a false statement to police. Judge Marjorie Clagett of Calvert County Circuit Court sentenced Heather Doyle to three months in jail (all but 15 days suspended), 240 hours of community service, two years of supervised probation and $165 in court costs.

Doyle pulled off a climbing feat on a crane with fellow activist Carling Sothoron in February 2015 to draw attention to the detrimental effects of Dominion Cove Point’s gas export terminal in Lusby, MD. Following her conviction for trespassing on Dominion’s construction site, she filed a complaint alleging assault and unsafe conduct by some the officers on the scene. After an internal investigation found no wrongdoing, the County pursued a charge against Doyle and Sothoron for making a false statement. Sothoron’s case was placed on an inactive docket last November.

Why the County would take the unusual step of turning a complaint made by someone alleging to be the victim of police brutality into a nearly yearlong, extensive and vigorous prosecution of the complainant has been somewhat of a mystery. During sentencing today, State’s attorney Michael Gerst offered one explanation. He said that a false accusation of police brutality and incompetence is not only a crime, it has the effect of causing distrust of the police department.

But Richelle Brown of SEED Coalition, the grassroots fossil fuel resistance organization Doyle works with, called Calvert County’s choice to prosecute Doyle “vindictive.” They intended to intimidate opponents of Dominion Cove Point, she said, and “anyone who might even think about trying to hold the police accountable for abuses of power.”

Moreover, she believes the County has an interest in quelling opposition to Dominion Cove Point because of its financial dependence on it, and serious charges against an activist put a damper on the opposition movement. “Ensuring that Heather got the help she needed to fight this charge has been a six-month, all-out effort by SEED and its allies,” Brown said, while on the other hand, the prosecution drew on taxpayer funds.

Nevertheless, Brown says SEED activists will “continue to fight on behalf of affected communities to oppose Dominion Cove Point.”

Doyle thanked her supporters in her sentencing statement, saying that she was “so ready to move on in my life from this situation.” She has been admitted to start a graduate program in modern dance at the University of New Mexico in the fall. However, she remains “very concerned for people in the community who experience numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation [by police] as they go about their daily lives.”

In statements supporting Doyle’s actions and credibility, some community members communicated similar concerns to Judge Clagett. Leslie Garcia of Lusby said that because Dominion pays Calvert County Sheriff’s deputies to provide security for them, she and her neighbors have experienced a “corporate takeover of a small rural town.”

“My peaceful bayside community is disappearing: our lovely stretches of beach are monitored and walkers confronted, police SUVs zoom up and down our single paved road in frenzied searches,” she said.

She regrets that she will no longer be able to grow tomatoes in her garden because of ground-level ozone, she told DC Media Group. But what she really dreads is being forced to breathe air containing some of the 21.5 tons of carcinogenic pollutants which will be emitted from the liquefaction train and the onsite power plant at Dominion Cove Point once it is fully operational.

“We object to the unexamined health and safety risks the LNG refinery and export plant exposes us all to,” Garcia explained to Judge Clagett. “The lines have been blurred, police protection has been bought for a million dollars.”

After sentencing, Doyle was taken into custody to serve 15 days in the Calvert County Detention Facility.