Two trials were held in Santa Barbara Federal Court on Thursday, July 15, with Dennis Apel, MacGregor Eddy, and Steve Kelly, SJ, each convicted of criminal trespass (ban & bar violation) at Vandenberg AFB for attending legal protests without intentionally “crossing the line.”
The first trial included co-defendants Dennis Apel and MacGregor Eddy. A pretrial motion to establish that the designated protest area is a public forum, was denied to the defense. Magistrate Rita Coyne-Federman rejected the argument that free speech is protected in the designated protest area, as defined by Vandenberg officials. Dennis Apel and MacGregor Eddy were convicted of violating a “ban and bar” order, which resulted from a 12/31/09 protest against a National Missile Defense interceptor test and for being present at a peace vigil on March 3, 2010.
The sentence imposed on each defendant was a $125 fine, plus court costs, totaling $320 for each defendant.
Later that afternoon a second trial was held for co-defendants Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, and Dennis Apel. Again both were convicted with fines imposed as sentence.
What is noteworthy is that this is the first time an arrest for violating a ban and bar has been prosecuted.
NOTE: See article in the Santa Marie Sun
LETTER FROM SANTA BARBARA ACLU:
Vandenberg Air Force Base and Protest
Anti-war protests have been going on for decades at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California. It is one of a number of places that attract protesters. Others in this area include Livermore labs managed by the University of California, and nuclear test site in Nevada.
The focuses of the protests are rather diverse. Even on a given date there may be signs against weapons in space, nuclear weapons, a particular war, drones, star wars, and the list goes on. There have been times when the emphasis was on civil disobedience, but most of the time and for most of the protesters it is just a lawful protest.
There have been various legal proceedings and some of these have changed the way the protests have been conducted. There was a time when protesters were not allowed on the base at all. Protesters would then meet at Vandenberg Village and march to the base along highway 1. The California highway patrol would then monitor the march. Once a patrol officer, who had been one of the monitors, celebrated his retirement by joining the march as a protester.
As a result of some of the court proceedings an area next to entrance of the base was designated as an area for protesters. This area is along state highway 1, is under joint jurisdiction by the base and the state. There were also areas for people to park their cars. The various areas are changed by the base from time to time. Occasionally there have been counter-protesters who would gather on an opposite corner. As far as I know the protests have always been peaceful, even when civil disobedience was planned.
Protesters who participated in civil disobedience, in addition to legal proceeding were subject to a “ban and bar” notice from the base. The base does not allow such people to come onto the base or to even to be in the protest area. Around the beginning of this year, the base started demanding that all protesters produce valid picture identification. The ACLU, at one time, passed out “rights” cards that stated that a law abiding citizen did not have to produce identification. (When one signs a drivers license, one is waiving this right when driving a car and stop by the highway patrol.) This led the protesters to believe that the demanding of identification was unconstitutional, and many of them have been refusing to show their identification. This has led to their detention and the issue of “ban and bar” even when they were not convicted of anything.
On July 15 three people, who had been issued “ban and bar” but attended protests anyway, were convicted of trespassing. A major point in the trial was if the protest area is a “public forum.” If it were a public forum, then the base would not be allowed to restrict who could be there. Judge-magistrate Rita Federman started the trial by ruling that the area was not a “public forum.” She reached her guilty verdict by deciding that the base commander was not “arbitrary or capricious.” The people convicted were MacGregor Eddy (2 counts), Denis Apel (3 counts), and Father Steve Kelly (1 count). Kelly’s only offense leading to a “ban and bar” was not showing his identification. The maximum penalty for each count was $5,000 fine and 6 months in prison. The sentences given were $125 (plus $35 in court fees) and no prison time for each count.
At this time it is not clear what the next step will be. The criminal case will be appealed on behalf of MacGregor Eddy. A possibility is to file a civil suit against the base for suppressing first amendment activities.
This would allow the protesters to subpoena information from the base.
James B. Robertson, Santa Barbara ACLU and Death Penalty Focus.