CHRISTIANSBURG — A Mountain Valley Pipeline protester was convicted Monday of assaulting two construction workers — and minutes after the hearing, another pipeline opponent was lying face-down and handcuffed in a Montgomery County Courthouse hallway after an altercation with a state police officer.
Evin Tyler Ugur, 23, of Worcester, Massachusetts, was convicted of two counts of assault and battery for throwing water onto two workers in July at the pipeline construction access near Yellow Finch Road in eastern Montgomery County. She was sentenced to serve 20 days in jail and ordered to have no contact with the two workers and to stay off any easement or property controlled by the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s builders.
The hallway episode that followed Ugur’s hearing involved Jammie Hale, 47, of Pembroke, who in September faced his own charge of assaulting a pipeline security guard. At a September hearing in Montgomery County General District Court, Judge Gino Williams watched a video of Hale’s profanity-filled encounter with the security guard and said he saw no assault.
On Monday, Hale was back in Williams’ courtroom, this time among 15 or so people there to support Ugur. Williams again watched videos of protesters berating pipeline workers — and of Ugur, wearing a red bandanna across her face, hurling water from a bottle onto two men. There were incredulous murmurs among Ugur’s supporters as Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen argued that the water-throwing was an assault.
After the judge found Ugur guilty and gave her until Nov. 14 to report to jail, she and her friends filed out into a hallway — where Hale encountered Special Agent W.S. Mitchell of the state police, who is handling several other charges against Ugur and who had been called as a prosecution witness Monday.
It was not immediately apparent what happened between Mitchell and Hale, but Hale was handcuffed and on the ground as a reporter exited the courtroom a few minutes after the hearing’s end. Three of the sheriff’s deputies who provide courthouse security stood over him.
Hale, whose use of a cane had figured in his earlier assault case, told officers that he had problems with his legs, back and shoulder but declined a medical examination. He also declined to sit up or move out of the middle of the hallway until officers said they would lift him into a wheeled office chair and take him into a side room. At that, Hale rose and with officer’s got into the chair.
Sandra Freeman, a Denver, Colorado, attorney who has worked from Blacksburg representing pipeline protesters, knelt in the hallway next to Hale. She had represented Ugur and also Hale in the September case in which he was acquitted. Freeman told officers that Hale would not answer questions about his interaction with Mitchell.
Mitchell declined to comment.
Freeman said later Monday that Hale was charged with disorderly conduct.
Ugur’s hearing involved testimony from Douglas Ouhl of Precision Pipeline and Jerome Meyer of Northern Clearing, who on July 18 were at the Yellow Finch access to work on the pipeline. Protesters have maintained a camp and two tree-sits there that have been the subject of civil lawsuits in federal and state courts.
Ouhl and Meyer said they were confronted by a half dozen or so protesters. In videos shown in court, protesters taunted the workers, telling them to change jobs and that it was going to be a hot day.
In one video, a masked woman that Ouhl said was Ugur took a bottle of fuel additive from one of the construction vehicles. In another video, the masked woman rapidly approached Ouhl and Meyer, doused them, and retreated.
Meyer first identified another person in the courtroom as the water-thrower, then said he had misspoken and that the culprit was Ugur.
After a back-and-forth between attorneys about what constituted assault, Williams agreed with Jensen that Virginia case law was clear: An assault was an unwanted physical touching but the touch could be by an object set in motion by a defendant.
Freeman called the water-throwing an expression protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment but Jensen — and the judge — disagreed.
“Peaceful protesting is fine,” Jensen said. “That’s what the First Amendment covers. The First Amendment does not cover violent acts.”
Williams suspended another 160 days of jail time and ordered that Ugur be supervised by the probation office for 12 months.
The judge said he would delay until next month a ruling on a petit larceny charge against Ugur stemming from the removal of the fuel additive. Ugur has December hearings on charges of obstruction and interfering with the property rights of another, also linked to pipeline protests.