WILLITS WEEKLY’S CAT LEE reporting from the CHP press conference Thursday regarding the Willits Bypass and related protest(s):
Eight arrests, no violence, no resistance, no destruction of equipment or damage to land. Protesters transported to Mendocino County Jail. About 20 CHP officers brought in from out of Mendocino County; here “as long as we’re needed.”
A statement from Steve Kruel, Public Information Officer, Ukiah CHP, regarding today’s arrests of eight protesters: “There are No Trespassing signs posted throughout the project, and our intent is to enforce that. So what we’ve done with the people who are trespassers is we’ve given them many opportunities, many dispersal orders and many opportunities to do that on their own. If they refuse to do that, then they’re being arrested for trespassing… The seven that I know of have all been for trespassing. I understand there has been an eighth arrest, but I don’t have any information on the eighth arrest.”
Those arrested were transported to Mendocino County Jail.
Seven arrests, as confirmed by CHP: Tara (or Cara?) Dragoni, no city listed; Jamie D. Chevalier – Willits; Matthew J. Caldwell, Willits; Sara L. Grusky, Willits; William E. (‘Will’) Parrish, Ukiah; Elizabeth K. Riegle (sp?), Forestville; Sandra E. Marshall, Redwood Valley.
When asked by the KZYX reporter “what provided the tipping point for you [CHP] to start arresting today,” Kruel responded: “They’re here to work without being interfered with. We respect the right of protesters to exercise their first amendment but if what they are doing exceeds what is intended by those rights or the right to demonstrate or if violence were ensued, we would take action to protect lives and property.”
PD reporter questioned if there was any exit strategy for removing Warbler from the tree. What’s your plan?
Kruel: “Our hope is that they will self-evacuate themselves. We will give them plenty of opportunity to do that. If that doesn’t happen, then we have plans in place to address that.”
I asked him about the gate that was reportedly installed which would separate Warbler and the tree she is in from her supporters, and he responded, “I am not sure what they installed at that end. I’m not down there.”
I asked if there was any resistance from those arrested. Kruel said, “The seven that were arrested, no resistance at all. First and foremost, above all, we want people to be safe. We’re here to provide a service. We’re here to make sure the public is made safe. The equipment out here is dangerous. The contractors out here have a job to do. The Highway Patrol respects lawful demonstrations, and they have the right to protest.”
I asked if there was any evidence of the trespassers doing anything destructive to equipment or to the land.” He said: “Not to my knowledge.” I followed up with, “Then it was JUST trespassing?” He said. “The first seven … they were arrested for trespassing, no destruction of property, no violence, no resisting arrest, nothing like that.”
When asked by the KZYX reporter if the demonstrators would be allowed to legally stand on the outside of the fenced-in area [between the fence and the road by DripWorks]. Kruel said he would have to refer that question to Caltrans: “I don’t have the answer to that.”
One of the PD reporters said she had heard that the seventh arrestee had been dragged off kicking and screaming, and asked if he had heard that or had any information on that, and he said: “I have not.”
I asked him where all these CHP officers came from today, and if this was going to cause a shortage of officers in other areas. He said: “We are a statewide organization. We are trained to respond to many different events throughout the state. Because of that, we have similarly trained officers that are able to respond when needed. This is one of those cases where not everyone that you see here is from here. The motoring public is still being protected. There are still officers working the road doing other duties, other daily duties that would normally be done.”
He was asked by the KZYX reporter for numbers of officers from today’s action and how many are from outside our county, and he said he did not have those numbers, no numbers on units or anything like that.
I asked how long this level of CHP presence is going to be in effect. He said, “We’ll be out here as long as we’re needed. How long that is, I don’t know.”
When asked about getting numbers to the media concerning the number of officers involved and how many are from out of the area, Kruel said: “I can attempt to do that. My bet is that if it involves any sort of tactical information, I won’t give that to you. But I will inquire. Yes.”
I asked if getting Warbler out of the tree is a priority, or if there was a tactical plan of action to do that. Kruel said, “We would like to see everybody leave on their own, so that work can go forward.”
There was a brief side conversation between two reporters that perhaps two others have gone up into the tree or some tree other tree, within the last three to five days. I haven’t heard any such talk, and I haven’t seen anyone in the past couple of days besides Warbler.
This stimulated me to ask if all who were trespassing were removed except Warbler, and Kruel didn’t know. I had heard in the early morning that people had gotten in to the area before all the blockades, and I was wondering if all had been removed or arrested. Kruel said: “It’s a fluid day. I don’t know everything that goes on when we’re out here. I just know seven were arrested prior to us meeting here.”
We were then escorted out of the fenced area. No one was allowed to wander or explore the area. The email announcing the press conference had announced the location as the Caltrans HQ on East Hill Road, but it was moved to a different site on East Hill Road. The protesters that had gathered at the Caltrans HQ had come to the site during the media update, and then Sara Grusky of Save Little Lake Valley — who had been arrested early this morning — walked up to join the protesters.