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Gohmann Asphalt, the company awarded the contract to construct the first 1.77 miles of Interstate 69 in Southern Indiana, has decided to start a legal battle with activists. Gohmann seems to be working in conjunction with the FBI, Indiana State Police and various other law enforcement agencies to cripple the movement. This comes at a time when other types of repression seem to have peaked in southern Indiana. There has been frequent police harassment, surveillance, questioning, IDing and photographing of activists and vocal opponents of the road.
At the second Gohmann lockdown 15 people were arrested solely on misdemeanor charges and yet the collective bail was upwards of $30,000. Those arrested are facing between one and three charges, these being trespassing, resisting law enforcement, and conversion (exerting unauthorized use or control of someone else’s property). Many of these charges are groundless and clearly an attempt to intimidate activists into refraining from future actions against the road. No plea agreements have been accepted and trials dates are expected to be ongoing throughout the fall and possibly continue into the winter.
Additionally, a lawsuit, which appears to be a SLAPP suit, has been filed against the16 individuals arrested at actions at the Gohmann Yard in Haubstadt, Indiana. A SLAPP suit is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, in which a corporation or developer sues an organization in an attempt to scare it into dropping protests against a corporate initiative. Gohmann is seeking restitution for alleged damages.
It is clear that the supposed “damages” are completely fabricated or, at the very least, hugely inflated. Gohmann was initially seeking $16,000 from the one individual arrested at the first action, but has since added the other 15 people arrested at the second action and increased the sought restitution to over $27,000. Included in the lawsuit is a statute stating that the defendants are potentially liable for up to three times that amount. This exorbitant sum is being demanded, despite the fact that the first person arrested was offered a plea agreement for their criminal charges requiring only about $330 in restitution for these supposed “damages.” This incredibly exaggerated and inaccurate sum seems to be intended to crush the movement against I-69 and anyone who dreams of trying stop this road.
At this point, almost all of the defendants are being represented by public defenders for their criminal charges but are representing themselves in regards to the lawsuit as public defenders are not granted in civil cases and they cannot afford lawyers. Conversely, defendants have been able to retain a pro bono lawyer from the ICLU (Indiana Civil Liberties Union) to represent them in regards to Gohmann’s final attempt to quell their first amendment rights by filing a restraining order against all 16 people.
The restraining order contains many over the top stipulations. Should it remain in place it would require that defendants remain a minimum of 100 yards away from any site that Gohmann has proprietary or monetary interest in. This would include all 1.77 miles of the route. The restraining order extends to many situations out of the control of defendants such as proximity to Gohmann trucks or driving by Gohmann sites.
According to many lawyers who have been consulted, the restraining order contains law used to protect workers from potential stalkers and violence. Law typically used in domestic abuse situations is also cited. Clearly, this is an abuse of these laws, as none of the actions by defendants were violent, or intended to cause or threaten violence. Included in the restraining order were inflammatory documents and statements attempting to link defendants with extremist groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (an underground group which engages in sabotage and direct action in “defense of the earth”). They attempted to link defendants to various other environmental groups with which they have no connection. It seems like an attempt to portray defendants as being part of a much broader network of eco-radicalism.
The legal situation can appear somewhat bleak right now. However, as one lawyer commented, “these are their biggest guns and they are pulling them out now, at the beginning.” Often large companies or the state attempt to overwhelm smaller groups with a lot of legal bureaucracy, knowing that it is a greater burden for those with fewer resources. These are clearly scare tactics meant to consume our energy and time but legally appear to be fairly groundless. Despite these difficulties defendants plan to continue fighting this on all levels and will not let these tactics of intimidation stop them.
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