Anti-pipeline activist subdued by stun gun says he did not 'shove' police
GREAT BARRINGTON — An anti-pipeline activist subdued with a stun gun Wednesday after police say he shoved two troopers while fleeing from arrest gave a different account of the episode after his arraignment Thursday.
Jacob Renner, 24, said he did not shove two troopers as they chased him to place him under arrest for trespassing into a pipeline work area on a private farm abutting Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s temporary headquarters in Sandisfield.
Renner, a water protector from Sharon, Conn., also said that when two troopers had got hold of him by each arm, eventually forcing him to the ground with the stun gun, they had his vest and shirt completely over his head.
"They grabbed my vest and Taser-ed me at least three times," Renner told The Eagle in an interview outside Southern Berkshire District Court on Thursday.
The police report said the stun gun was used for one five-second cycle, with one set of probes on Renner's lower back and buttock, and that a second attempt to deploy the probes failed because the safety was on.
About to try a third time, Trooper Dean Lambert said he stopped because Renner appeared under control.
The episode came during a planned anti-pipeline road blockade by a coalition of seasoned activists and younger water protectors, just as work to the Massachusetts section of the Kinder Morgan subsidiary's 13-mile Connecticut Expansion Project wraps up in Otis State Forest and the town.
There were three arrests the day after Tennessee Gas got the green light from regulators to flow natural gas through this third line in a corridor that holds two older pipelines.
The complicated anatomy of pipeline resistance
It all began around 12:30 p.m. at a rest area on Route 8 in Otis and ended with 55 troopers, two with leashed K-9 units deployed to the pipeline crossing at company headquarters.
A group of about 30 water protectors and Sugar Shack Alliance members had convened on Route 8 after they had been to court that morning for other pipeline-related hearings.
The activists were spotted by a state Department of Transportation employee, who called state police to warn them they were in the area, according to the police report.
And it was a guard from the pipeline company's private, Boston-based security firm, Edward Davis LLC, who called state police to tell them to dispatch more troopers to South Beech Plain Road, which intersects the pipeline at company headquarters.
Protesters began the blockades to stop pipeline trucks and equipment from passing. Many were wearing "March of the Dead" masks from previous anti-war demonstrations.
Renner, wearing a mask, and another water protector said they had gone up to a newspaper delivery box on the privately-owned farm across the street to see if a letter and "prayer bundle" for the farm's owners that the activists had put there was still in it.
It was then that Renner, who spent four months at Standing Rock, N.D., protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, said things happened fast.
And Renner and the police report say that his not acting quickly to remove his hands from his pockets was what sparked the incident.
"I refused and took a step away, then [troopers] formed a moon around me, and I got scared for my life and ran," Renner said.
The police report said troopers thought he might have a weapon.
Renner, who said he never had been arrested before, said it all happened so fast that he panicked and ran about the length of three police cruisers parked on the dirt road.
"As I was running, I realized I had nowhere to run to and I couldn't get by them," he added.
And the troopers claim that, in an attempt to cut him off as he ran, Renner on two occasions shoved a trooper. The first time he knocked one off balance, and the next, Renner fell as he knocked another trooper to the ground.
Troopers say that once they had caught Renner, he struggled and "began to break free."
Renner, who the report says is 5'10" tall and 160 pounds, said he was struggling, "but not breaking free, especially when I realized I was under arrest."
Renner also contradicts the report where it says he tried to remove the stun gun's copper barbs from his lower back.
"They were putting the handcuffs on and I felt the barbs there," he said. "I didn't even realize I was being Tased."
And Renner also said he never heard anyone speak the word "Taser," which, the trooper said, he repeated three times.
But soon, Renner said he felt like he was "being stabbed with an electric fence," and showed an Eagle reporter his wounds.
"It's sharp, throbbing, and you can feel it pulsing when it starts coming up the whole body," he said.
Max Bambery, 31 of Lenox, was also arrested Wednesday, for blocking the road. Bambery told The Eagle he saw Renner running and said he did not shove the troopers.
Another former Standing Rock water protector who was there, but would only give his name as "Jeff," told The Eagle he saw Renner being subdued.
He said the trooper stunned Renner from a standing distance over him.
Renner, who is a farmer and gardener, confirmed the trooper's account, that a pocketknife was found on his belt when he was being placed inside the cruiser.
About 45 minutes to an hour after Renner was subdued, he was brought to an ambulance at company headquarters, but he said he refused treatment because he didn't want to be stuck with the bill.
The men said they did not have their Miranda rights read to them.
In a statement emailed to The Eagle, state police spokesperson David Procopio said that their rights were read when they were booked at the jail, and that rights did not have to be read in what was "a potentially volatile situation when troopers are trying to keep the peace that the suspects are disturbing."
Procopio further said that Renner knew or should have known that he was breaking the law and subject to arrest.
"That is the only indication he needed," he said, noting that the property was clearly marked with "No Trespassing" signs, and that Renner did not leave when asked by security.
Mild echoes of Standing Rock
It was not long after Renner's arrest that troopers began to flood into the area. Two police dogs were leashed and ready on each side of the road, and police would not allow anyone to move between the two activist blockades.
Renner said the incident highlights "the collusion between private security and public engagement" since, in addition to regular police deployments, Kinder Morgan has been paying the state police for special details since the work began about six months ago.
During May, the company paid state police about $115,000, according to a state police invoice.
The conflict between police and activists has grown more antagonistic as an increasing number of water protectors come to the area. Some are Native Americans, and most are young and vowing to fight all pipelines.
While sticking to nonviolence, their approach is more unpredictable and radical.
Rounds of "We Shall Not Be Moved" in the state forest are now overshadowed by sharp cries and shouts of "Who do you protect?" and "mni wiconi," which means "water is life" in Lakota — the catchphrase for what is a spreading national movement born on the front lines at Standing Rock.
Jeff, 27, said he came to the Berkshires from West Virginia after learning about the Sandisfield pipeline from his Standing Rock connections.
As he says this, shouts of "mni wiconi" come from the courthouse parking lot, and a sign goes up: "Standing Rock is Everywhere."
The pipeline project here began just three months after activists were dispersed from Standing Rock. Perhaps Tennessee Gas knew what was coming, and it immediately filled the area with a heavy private security presence.
Security is lighter now, but this one small water protector group, while not stopping the pipeline, is proving an irritant as it keeps pipelines and Standing Rock in the news.
"Water protectors [everywhere] are definitely being targeted right now," Renner said. "Especially the young and indigenous."
Renner pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault and battery on a police officer, and one count of trespassing, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct; Bambery and Priscilla Lynch pleaded not guilty to one count each of disorderly conduct. Pretrial hearings are set for Dec. 7.
Heather Bellow can be reached at 413-329-6871 firstname.lastname@example.org and @BE_heatherbellow.
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