The Sagadahoc County District Attorney has decided not to prosecute 25 protesters arrested for blocking the road outside Bath Iron Works last month.
D.A. Natasha Irving says police had probable cause to make the arrests, but she says in this particular case her office determined that prosecuting nonviolent offenders for an act of civil disobedience would not be the best use of her office's limited resources.
The arrests for obstructing a public way were made after protesters lined the street and blocked traffic ahead of a christening ceremony for a destroyer honoring President Lyndon Johnson. But after reviewing photos, videos and other evidence, Irving says she could not see moving forward with prosecution against those involved.
"If there was a criminal trespass involved, if there was an assault, if there was disorderly conduct, if there was belligerent conduct, if somebody bit at a police officer, for instance, those would be reasons that we would prosecute because those go over and above obstructing a public way," Irving says.
Obstructing a public way is a Class E misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine. But Irving says protesters in a case like this are often willing to risk jail time and go forward with a trial as way to attract attention to their message. And she had to consider whether prosecuting 25 people would be the best use of her limited budget and staff.
"That's going to take time away from their week when they need to prepare cases of child sexual abuse,” she says. “They need to prepare domestic violence cases, sexual assault cases, other violent crimes and they create extreme public safety concerns."
Protesters, who included members of Veterans for Peace and Americans Who Tell The Truth, say they were surprised by Irving's decision. Artist Robert Shetterly of Brooksville was among those arrested. He says the bigger crime is the amount of money being spent on the military in the face of climate change.
"You know, the U.S. military has the biggest carbon footprint of any entity in the world and it's at this moment in our history, to keep doing this is not giving us more security, it's making us more insecure."
Protests at the shipyard, Shetterly says, are not to shut down Bath Iron Works but to change its mission to support green energy.
Last year a Superior Court judge dismissed all criminal trespass charges against nine activists after a similar protest at BIW. Irving says the fact that she declined to prosecute this time does not mean she might not reach a different conclusion in the future.