Pipeline protester refuses state deal — won't admit he shoved trooper
GREAT BARRINGTON — An activist accused of assaulting state troopers during an anti-pipeline protest last November has declined a plea deal, opting to take the case to trial instead.
Jacob Renner, 25, of Sharon, Conn., was offered the opportunity by the District Attorney's Office to avoid criminal convictions if he admits to shoving the troopers, who had chased him before another officer subdued Renner with a stun gun.
But his attorney, Joseph Zlatnik, said his client is not willing to admit to something he did not do.
"He stands solid that he didn't hit [a trooper]," Zlatnik told The Eagle on Monday after a brief pretrial hearing in Southern Berkshire District Court.
Renner was arrested during the Nov. 1 protest over the construction of the Sandisfield section of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s larger 13-mile natural gas spur that also runs through New York State and Connecticut.
A farmer and landscaper, Renner had been part of a larger protest of around 30 activists who staged a double roadblock in front of Tennessee Gas's temporary headquarters on a farm the pipeline bisects.
Around 50 troopers arrived at the scene on a day when three arrests were made — some of the nearly 100 arrests since the company began work in early May.
Police said he was subdued with the stun gun after he resisted arrest for trespassing on the farm owner's property and fled. Renner allegedly shoved two troopers, knocking one down, during the chase that ensued.
A video taken by another activist shows Renner being held down by two troopers while a third stands above him and shoots the barbs into Renner's back.
The video does not show the events leading up to this, however.
He was charged with two counts of assault and battery on a police officer, trespass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The assault charges each carry a possible jail sentence of between 90 days and 2 1/2 years and between $500 and $5,000 in fines.
During Monday's hearing, Zlatnik told Judge Paul Vrabel he had filed a substantial discovery motion in January that asks the state questions, including its stun gun policy, and why K-9 units were deployed on the day in question.
Zlatnik also told the court he also had filed a motion for third party discovery for details that include communications between Kinder Morgan, Tennessee Gas' parent company, and private firm Edward Davis Security. Zlatnik contends that both had a questionable relationship to state police that led to Renner's arrest.
In the motion, Zlatnik points to the more than $1 million paid to state police in 2017 by Kinder Morgan for pipeline-related overtime security work.
And he points to a number of factors that cast doubt on whether Renner had done anything wrong to begin with.
"Kinder Morgan, and their agents, Ed Davis Security, and Stephen Howard (of Ed Davis Security) were not agents of the landowner, and therefore had no authority to order the defendant to leave the property," the motion reads.
Zlatnik also writes that Howard did not have the authority to tell troopers Renner was trespassing on someone else's property.
Assistant District Attorney Dana Parsons told Vrabel that the state would be "objecting on a number of things" in the discovery motions.
And later, Zlatnik rued the lack of dashboard cameras in state police cruisers, "a statewide problem." He said that if video of the entire incident were available, the case could more easily be resolved.
"We're forced to rely on [the video from] a random bystander," he said.
Vrabel set the next hearing date for April 5.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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