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Bath Police Chief Michael Field has denied a Maine Freedom of Access Act Request seeking communications between his police department and security personnel at Navy contractor Bath Iron Works regarding the policing of protests at the company’s shipyard.
Field cited an exemption in the law, which allows law enforcement authorities to block public access to documents related to the “purpose of preventing or preparing for acts of terrorism.”
“This is in response to your e-mail to me and my Administrative Assistant sent March 7, 2018 with regard to written communication between the Bath Police Department and the Bath Iron Works regarding policing of protests at the Shipyard, from January 1, 2016 to the present,” Field wrote in a letter to this reporter, dated March 12.
“The document relating to the planning and communications between the Bath Police Department and the Bath Iron Works were related to security planning and procedures and risk assessment,” he continued. “As such, these are not public records and are exempted under the provisions of 1 M.R.S. Section 402(3)(L).”
According to text of the Freedom of Access law posted online by the Maine Legislature, the exemption cited by Field allows police to block the release of “Records describing security plans, security procedures or risk assessments prepared specifically for the purpose of preventing or preparing for acts of terrorism, but only to the extent that release of information contained in the record could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the physical safety of government personnel or the public.”
Field did not respond to a follow-up email asking if he was “arguing that plans [made] with regards to policing non-violent protests staged by peace activists” constitute the preparation for potential terrorist activity.
Under Maine law, this reporter has 30 days from the time of Field’s letter to challenge his decision.
In an interview before the Freedom of Access Act request was filed, Logan Perkins, an attorney who represented some of the nine defendants acquitted last month for charges stemming from their participation in a protest at Bath Iron Works last April, said she questioned the legitimacy of the rationale Field ultimately used.
“Both Stan Cielinksi, the chief [of security] at BIW, and Lieutenant [Robert] Savary at the Bath Police Department are on the record saying they only expect peaceful protests and have a good working relationship with [peace activist] Bruce Gagnon,” Perkins said. “They’re on the record, under oath, saying that. There was nothing about ‘We’re concerned about security.'”
The Freedom of Access Act request was prompted by the Feb. 1 ruling by Maine Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings acquitting the nine protestors charged with criminal trespass.
“Here the testimony is basically the police department is outsourced to BIW on these events,” Billings said in open court. “It was pretty clear that Lieutenant Savary was taking his direction [from] Mr. Cielinksi, and basically arrests were going to be made or not based upon how he proceeded. And that’s not how this is supposed to work.”
Perkins said she believes Bath police are “actively subverting the Constitution in favor of the private entity’s interest” and are “more concerned with enforcing what Bath Iron Works wants than they are with enforcing the United States Constitution.”
She said testimony at trial “suggested that the highest level of collaboration, and preplanning, and decision-making” occurred between Bath police and the company’s security personnel.
The attorney also accused the town of Bath of not taking seriously Billings’ ruling and failing to send representatives to court to hear the judge’s decision.
Two members of the Bath City Council, including Chairwoman Mari Eosco, have downplayed Billings’ ruling, saying they’ve heard conflicting interpretations of it, and adding the council does not determine police department protocol.
Lisa Savage, a peace activist arrested during demonstrations at the April 1, 2017, christening of a Navy battleship at the BIW shipyard, called Police Chief Field’s reply invoking a terrorism exemption “alarming news,” adding that “the Bath Police Dept. has blundered into implicitly claiming that we protesters are considered terrorists.”
“We are committed to non-violence as a principle,” Savage said in an email, “and we always seek non-violent methods of opposing the violent tax-funded projects at [parent company] General Dynamics’ BIW shipyard.”
She added that one defendant, Jessica Stewart, was involved in an action “decades ago after a Catholic Worker group she was with cut through BIW’s fence and poured blood on warships inside the yard.”
“That is the biggest property damage by protesters that I know about,” Savage said, “and it certainly does not constitute terrorism.”
Alex Nunes is an independent journalist based in Rhode Island. He has contributed reporting to NPR, Rhode Island Public Radio, The Providence Journal, and The Day of New London, Conn., among other news organizations. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a bachelor’s in sociology from Rhode Island College.
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