Jury Refuses to Convict Activist for Shutting Down Pipeline*
“This trial was about climate change … and the story of the climate crisis won,” said co-accused climate activist Emily Johnston.
On Wednesday, a Washington state jury refused to convict climate activist Ken Ward on two felony counts related to the multi-state coordinated direct action against Canadian tar sands oil and in solidarity with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.
Despite clear video evidence of Ward illegally breaking into and shutting down the Trans Mountain pipeline near Anacortes, Washington, last October, the 12-member jury refused to convict, declaring a mis-trial in what has been hailed as an important win for the climate justice movement, with potential consequences for the growing resistance to the Trump administration.
“In five hours, the jury was unable to decide that with all of the evidence against me, including the video of me closing the valve, that this was a crime. I didn’t contest a single piece of the evidence, only presented my story and evidence of catastrophic climate change. This is a tremendous outcome,” said Ward in a statement.
If convicted, Ward faced up to 30 years in prison for criminal sabotage and “assemblage of saboteurs.”
“This trial was about climate change,” said Emily Johnston, who also took part in the coordinated action that shut down tar sands pipelines along the U.S.-Canada border. “The prosecution presented only information about what Ken did on October 11, and Ken and the defense presented only information about climate change, so the only decision that the jury was making was which story mattered more. And the story of the climate crisis won.”
Ward mounted an explicitly political defense and did not contest any of the evidence entered by the prosecution. Instead, Ward presented the court with scientific evidence about climate change, the role of civil disobedience in social change, and his political motivations in taking the action.
Activist Leonard Higgins, who faces trial for shutting off Spectra Energy’s Express tar sands pipeline in Montana as part of the same action, said he’s “excited to see that the jury recognized the integrity, honour, and patriotism of Ken Ward, and recognized that what he did was done for all of us.”
While the prosecution is still considering whether they will attempt to re-try Ward, the decision was celebrated by many in the climate justice movement given the context of President Trump’s crackdowns on water protectors at Standing Rock, his decision to re-open the Keystone XL Pipeline project, as well as numerous Republican attempts to criminalize protest and civil disobedience.
The jury’s decision came the same day former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was sworn in as U.S. secretary of state, despite ongoing criminal investigations of his company’s decades-long attempts to cover up evidence of climate change.
This is the second time Ward has managed to persuade potential opponents of the moral necessity of direct action to combat climate change.
In 2013 Ward was charged with conspiracy and disturbing the peace for blocking a coal barge off the coast of Massachusetts. In that case, he managed to convince the district attorney to not only drop the charges, but to declare his support for the action itself.
“Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced,” Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter said in announcing that he was dropping the 2013 charges against Ward. “In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue is gravely lacking.”