BANGOR, Maine — Charges have been dropped against five of the six people arrested in September at the Land Use Regulation Commission’s meeting in Bangor at which it approved Plum Creek’s development plan.
Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy announced Friday in a press release that charges of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct would be dismissed against Jessica Dowling, 28, of Searsmont; Megan Gilmartin, 25, of Corinth; James Freeman, 60, of Verona Island; Emily Posner, 28, of Montville; and Ryan Clarke, 27, of Corinth. The ages listed are those contained in a Bangor police press release of Sept. 23, 2009.
The case against Christian Neils, 32, of Appleton will go forward, the district attorney said. Neils is charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, refusing to submit to arrest, and carrying a concealed weapon, a knife.
Because Neils resisted arrest and was more uncooperative with Bangor police than the other protesters were, Almy said, the case against him would go forward.
The six were arrested on Sept. 23 at the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road just as commissioners were preparing to approve Plum Creek’s controversial housing and resort plan for the Moosehead Lake region. The vote capped an intense, four-year public debate about economic development and land preservation in Maine’s North Woods.
Jury selection in the protesters’ trial was scheduled to be held Monday, Almy said, but a trial date had not been set.
The evidence in the cases would show the protesters did disrupt the public hearing, Almy said. Whether that disruption constituted a lawful exercise of free speech or constituted criminal behavior was in doubt, he said.
Posner declined Friday to comment on the dropped charges until after Niels has been tried. His trial date is expected to be set next week.
Efforts to reach the others charged in the case were unsuccessful late Friday afternoon.
“It is apparent that the defendant protesters intend[ed] to use the court process not for an adjudication of the legal and factual issues, but for a forum to advocate their beliefs,” Almy said in explaining why his office dropped the charges. “We need the available court time to prosecute domestic assault offenders, drug offenders, and violent crime offenders and other serious matters.”
The prosecutor also expressed concern over a precedent set in April 2008 when Freeman and five others were found not guilty by a Penobscot County jury of criminal trespass at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in a war protest the previous March.
“The last time the district attorney’s office prosecuted a civil disobedience jury trial, the presiding judge gave legal instruction to the jury, which, with all due respect to the court, our office believed to be faulty,” Almy said. “These jury instructions made conviction highly unlikely, and our office is uncertain as to what jury in-structions would be in the present cases.”
Defendants but not prosecutors may appeal a jury’s verdict.
If convicted, Neils faces up to a year in prison and fines of up to $2,000 on each of the resisting arrest and concealed weapon charges. On the other two charges, he faces up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.