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Michael Field, chief of police for Bath, Maine, clarified his position on activists who have staged protests at Navy contractor Bath Iron Works, in an email one day after a story published on this website reported his invoking of an exemption for anti-terrorism planning in denying a recent state Freedom of Access Act request.
“I do not characterize the protestors as terrorist,” Field wrote Tuesday. “Having said that, the planning and operational details that go into the events at BIW are more broad than just protestors.”
The Freedom of Access request sent to Field and his administrative assistant earlier this month sought “an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that show communications between the Bath Police Department and Bath Iron Works concerning policing of protests at the Bath Iron Works shipyard” over the past two years.
The request was prompted by a Feb. 1 ruling by Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings, who acquitted nine protestors on charges stemming from a protest at a BIW warship “christening” last April.
In announcing his ruling in open court, Billings criticized Bath police for too closely following the guidance of the company’s security staff. He said the City of Bath should also take a closer look at its standards on policing protests, advice two city council members have indicated they personally will not act on.
“Here the testimony is basically the police department is outsourced to BIW on these events,” Billings said. “It was pretty clear that Lieutenant [Robert] Savary was taking his direction [from] Mr. [Stan] Cielinkski, [BIW’s chief of security]. And that’s not how this is supposed to work.”
In a recent phone interview, Logan Perkins, a lawyer who represented some of the defendants at trial, said Bath police are “actively subverting the Constitution in favor of [BIW’s] interest.” Perkins said police were “more concerned with enforcing what Bath Iron Works wants than they are with enforcing the United States Constitution.”
In his Freedom of Access Act response letter to this reporter, Field wrote, “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. 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. As such, these are not public records and are exempted under the provisions of 1 M.R.S. Section 402(3)(L).”
The exemption cited by Field applies to “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.”
In his clarification email saying he does not characterize activists protesting at the Bath Iron Works shipyard as terrorists, Field also said, “We prepare for all circumstances including an active shooter for example. We cannot predict the types of issues that may occur at the event. Part of that operational planning does include mass arrests, such as was done with the protest group. That specific detail may have been detailed in court, but again not the entire base of planning.”
When pressed on why information specifically related to protestors could not be released if the activists have not been deemed terrorist threats, Field replied, “I am not going to release any further information.”
Field’s initial denial came as an affront to peace activists, who say they deliberately embrace non-violent means of protest.
“We are committed to non-violence as a principle,” Lisa Savage, one of the nine defendants acquitted by Judge Billings, said in a recent email.
She added, “[W]e always seek non-violent methods of opposing the violent tax-funded projects at [parent company] General Dynamics’ BIW shipyard.”
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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