Anti-pipeline activist's attorney asks state for police communications, stun gun policy after arrest
In a pretrial hearing in Southern Berkshire District Court Thursday, attorney Joseph Zlatnik told Judge Paul Vrabel he had "filed a substantial discovery motion" in which he asked the state for information that includes state police trooper radio and other communications, and the state's policy on the use of stun guns.
At a Nov. 1 protest near Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. headquarters in Sandisfield, police say his client, Jacob Renner, took troopers on a foot chase that ended with a trooper using a stun gun on Renner, 25.
The discovery motion also asks for information about communications between troopers and Kinder Morgan security guards, any previous complaints or "use of force" reports against the three troopers who subdued Renner, and other questions, such as why police dogs were deployed that day.
In his 15-item discovery request, Zlatnik also asks for details of overtime and other pay from Kinder Morgan to the troopers involved in the incident, which he told The Eagle may have involved "unjustified, egregious" use of a stun gun by a police force that may be "intertwined" with the pipeline company.
Vrabel set a hearing for this motion for Feb. 12.
Renner's case is the first in which criminal charges that include assault and battery of a police officer, are being pursued by the state over a series of demonstrations by activists that began in May and continued throughout November, resulting in nearly 100 arrests.
Activists have converged in Sandisfield to protest the Kinder Morgan subsidiary's new 13-mile natural gas spur that cuts through the town, and through an almost 2-mile section of state owned and protected Otis State Forest.
The company hired private security firm Ed Davis Inc. to stand guard during the roughly 6-month construction period on the controversial Connecticut Expansion Project that ended last month.
But during those months the company also spent more than $1 million for a special, overtime state police presence at the pipeline, the company's third in an existing corridor.
How it started
At the Nov. 1 double road blockade by about 30 activists in front of the company's temporary headquarters, where the pipeline bisects the road, 55 troopers and two K-9 units converged.
Police say Renner had trespassed into a private driveway to a farm that is also the pipeline work area. Upon an arrest attempt, police say he gave chase, and knocked one trooper down and shoved another.
It ended when one trooper used the stun gun on Renner, and two other troopers held him down.
Renner has previously told The Eagle he panicked and ran without thinking as police drew near, without telling him they were arresting him. A video of part of the incident shows two troopers holding Renner down while he writhes and screams, his shirt pulled up over part of his back, as a third trooper stands over him and shoots the stun gun probes into his lower back.
Renner was charged with two counts of assault and battery on a police officer, trespass, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He pleaded not guilty.
A challenging trial coming
After the hearing, Zlatnik said that having seen the video of the incident, which was taken by another activist, he thinks this will be a "challenging trial," since the video doesn't show the "initial interaction" that lead to the use of a stun gun.
But Zlatnik, who has also represented some Sugar Shack Alliance activists, also said there were aspects of the video that "undermine" police claims that Renner had "shoulder checked" one trooper.
"What is most egregious is that he is face down in the twigs and rocks, and the trooper uses the Taser point blank," he said, noting Renner's 160-pound, 5-foot, 10-inch frame. "It's unclear to me why a police officer would do that. It could be innocent."
Zlatnik, who is representing Renner for free, and does this pro bono work because he said he thinks "civil disobedience is very important," further said that even during an arrest, a person has a right to defend himself, and that because trespassing is a misdemeanor, unless it is observed by police it does not justify arrest.
"He panicked and ran when they asked private security if this was him, and a trooper said, 'get him,' and three troopers started moving toward him, hands on their belts."
According to the police report, it was private security that had alerted troopers, who then responded.
In an email to The Eagle after the incident, state police spokesman David Procopio said that troopers may have been concerned that the situation might escalate.
"When troopers responded, [Renner] refused to take his hands out of his pockets despite being asked to do so several times, raising concerns that he may have had a weapon. A trooper then instructed another trooper on-scene to place RENNER under arrest, at which point he ran on South Beach Road."
Zlatnik said Renner and witnesses say that when troopers arrived, Renner was standing in the road, so they could not have seen him trespassing, had he been.
"You have the right to not stop, when the police tell you to stop, if you have committed no crimes," Zlatnik said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871
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