SEATTLE — Prosecutors have dropped charges including burglary and sabotage against two filmmakers who recorded a protest at an oil pipeline in Washington state last month.
The filmmakers, Lindsey Grayzel of Portland, Oregon, and Carl Davis of Orcas Island, Washington, say they were working on a documentary about climate activist Ken Ward on Oct. 11 when Ward broke through a fence and turned a safety valve along the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline near Burlington. Ward also livestreamed his actions.
The three were among 11 people arrested that day amid attempts to shut down oil pipelines in Washington, North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana in solidarity with those protesting the four-state Dakota Access pipeline project in North Dakota, said Jay O’Hara, a spokesman for the environmental activism group Climate Disobedience Center.
Charges remain against the other nine, who include two people who were recording actions in North Dakota and Minnesota.
“It’s good the charges against Lindsey and Carl have been dropped,” O’Hara said Monday. “But everyone knew they were taking this sort of risk. These folks aren’t looking to get out of consequences.”
In an order signed Friday, the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office said it needs more time to investigate and could re-file the charges, which defense attorneys had challenged on a number of grounds, including free-speech rights.
Trans Mountain did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Grayzel and Davis each faced felony counts of burglary, sabotage and assemblage of saboteurs, as well as a misdemeanor count of trespassing. They also had camera equipment, footage and phones seized, only some of which has been returned, Grayzel said Monday. She said the 34 hours she spent in custody and the prospect of prosecution has a chilling effect on independent journalists covering climate change and political dissent.
“My main concern is climate change, and Ken is someone who doesn’t just worry about it, but is willing to go to jail to take a moral stand,” she said.
The protesters called pipeline company officials ahead of time to warn them about their actions, and workers shut down four of the targeted sites before protesters reached the valves. The pipeline targeted by Ward wasn’t operating at the time of his attempt.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose reservation straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border, has been fighting along with other tribes and environmental groups to stop the completion of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, saying it would threaten the water supply for millions of people.
Supporters say the pipeline will have safeguards against leaks, and is a safer way to move oil than trucks and trains.
More than 260 people have been arrested since major demonstrations against the pipeline began in August.
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