Seven of 12 persons arrested while publicly defending water over oil at the Valero Energy refinery on MLK Day in Memphis are set for preliminary hearings tomorrow May 2 at the Shelby County Justice Center, 201 Poplar Avenue.
Cases were continued from Feb. 15 when defense attorneys asked police for any body-worn camera footage they had.
At a preliminary hearing, the arresting officer usually testifies, and the judge must determine if there is probable cause to support the charge. Defendants are not required to testify, and typically defense attorneys use the hearings to determine what evidence the prosecution has and how the state intends to prosecute the cases.
Cases can be resolved in various ways at this juncture, ranging from dismissal of charges, to making some sort of deal for pleas and costs to advancing to trial.
Three cases against the five others arrested in front of the Valero pumping station on Mallory Drive were dismissed, and two cases were disposed of by the defendants paying costs and fines.
Calling themselves water protectors and representing Arkansas Rising to protest the 440-mile Diamond Oil pipeline form Cushing, OK, to Valero’s refinery on the banks of the Mississippi River, five of the remaining defendants were among seven chained together through 55-gallon drums filled with concrete: Olivia Ramirez of Shiatook, OK; Erick Conner of Glenpool, OK; Katherine Hanson of Rutledge, MO: Clay Ayers of Memphis, and Spencer Kaaz of Memphis. They were charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway or passageway and criminal trespass, all Class C misdemeanors.
Rachel Gay of Rutledge, MO, and Seema Rasoul of Memphis were charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway or passageway.
An independent journalist with Hive Swarm News & Media, Gay was filming the action when arrested Jan. 16, the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The disorderly conduct charge was dismissed for a defective warrant. In arresting officer Daniel Dermyer’s affidavit, he notes that there were “20-30” persons present, and that they had not obtained a protest permit, which the city of Memphis requires for assemblies of 25 or more persons.
Gay was not part of the protest nor was she an organizer – environmental activists Arkansas Rising organized the event – so it is notable that the officer complained against Gay on the basis of no permit, and he even acknowledged that the number of people assembled may not have reached the 25-person threshold.
Neither was Rasoul chained into one of five barrels, which obstructed but did not close the Valero entrance and exit driveways. She was arrested while she was on the public sidewalk along Mallory Avenue -- although Memphis police had shut down Mallory Avenue from all traffic including local media.
The cases are sorted among five courtrooms:
Division 7, judge William Bill Anderson: Spencer Kaaz, represented by Seth Segraves. Olivia Ramirez, represented by Jason Ballenger.
Division 11, judge Karen Massey: Clay Ayers, represented by Michael Working.
Division 12, judge Ronald Lucchesi: Seema Rasoul, represented by Jason Ballenger. Erick Conner, represented by Ballenger.
Division 13, judge Louis J. Montessi Jr.: Rachel Gay, represented by Michael Working; Katherine Hanson, represented by Seth Segraves.
Since initially being charged, disorderly conduct against Hanson has been dismissed for “no probable cause,” and criminal trespass against Kaaz was dismissed without cost.
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