Two protesters claim abuse while being peaceful

Kelly Holleran Nov. 3, 2014, 12:03pm

Two protesters say Wood County Sheriff's Department deputies abused them as they peacefully protested the placement of pipe across land.

Benjamin Franklin-Sequoyah Craft-Rendon and Shannon Kathleen Bebe filed a lawsuit Sept. 16 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas against TransCanada Keystone Pipeline and the Wood County Sheriff's Department.

On Sept. 25, 2012, at about 10 a.m., Craft-Rendon and Bebe allege they were protesting the construction of a Keystone XL Pipeline that was being installed on David Daniels' private property without his consent. The plaintiffs attempted to delay the construction by securing themselves to the back digging scoop of one of TransCanada's pieces of heavy digging equipment, according to the complaint.

At about noon, three Wood County deputies and one police officer from Pittsburg arrived and began interrogating the plaintiffs, the suit states. The police officer then examined the pipe containing the plaintiffs' hands and jerked their hands around within the pipe, the complaint says.

He requested that the plaintiffs remove themselves from the property but the plaintiffs refused, saying they were attempting to peacefully protest and cause a delay in the pipeline's installation, which would allow the court to process the landowner's claim for review of the installation, the plaintiffs allege.

By about 2 p.m., a TransCanada official arrived and began talking with law enforcement officers out of earshot of the plaintiffs, according to the complaint. Immediately following the discussion, the officer approached the plaintiffs and told them that they were trespassing, the suit states. He added that if they did not remove themselves they would be placed under arrest, the complaint says.

The plaintiffs refused to move, so the officer told them they were under arrest and began twisting Craft-Rendon's free arm and wrist, he alleges. A sheriff's deputy began to tug on the pipe and pushed it into Craft-Rendon, according to the complaint.

"At this time, the Pittsburg officer instructed the sheriff's deputy pushing the pipe into Craft-Rendon's chest that he should instead take over twisting Craft-Rendon's free arm so that that Pittsburg officer could then roll the pipe back and forth in different directions so as to twist plaintiffs' restrained arms, causing them pain which both plaintiffs verbally expressed," the suit states.

After about three to four minutes of the twisting, law enforcement collaborated and elected to get pepper spray, the complaint says. Craft-Rendon alleges they also took his free arm and handcuffed it to the same heavy digging equipment stationed behind his back, which he says caused him pain and cut off circulation.

The officer and deputies then sprayed pepper spray into the pipe, which landed on the plaintiffs' scraped arms and fingers, causing them extreme pain, according to the complaint.

Still, the plaintiffs remained on the scene, refusing to leave. Next, officers Tazered both plaintiffs, the suit states.

Bebe, who had a heart condition, attempted to comply with officers' requests to remove herself after she had been Tazered, but could not due to her numb fingers, the complaint says. Law enforcement officials told her that they would keep Tazering her until she followed their directions, she alleges.

Seeing Bebe in pain, Craft-Rendon told officers he would comply with their requests, according to the complaint. Both plaintiffs were arrested and charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. The charge of resisting arrest was later dropped, the suit states.

The plaintiffs allege the officers used excessive force against them.

Because of the incident, they incurred medical costs, experienced mental anguish and disfigurement and suffered physical impairment, according to the complaint. They also lost earnings and their earning capacities and experienced physical pain and suffering, the suit states.

They seek actual and punitive damages, plus attorney fees, pre-judgment interest, costs and other relief the court deems just.

Attorney Burke Austin Moore of Pearland will represent them.

Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas case number: 4:14-CV-2675

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