Pipeline protester must pay over $3K in fines - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Pipeline protester must pay over $3K in fines

Posted: Updated:

UPDATE: 

It is a case that began 18 months ago just south of big sandy.  Leonard Higgins was one of 5 people across the nation attempting to take a stand against the Dakota Access pipeline by shutting off a valve at an Enbridge oil site.

His action landed hI'm a lawsuit, a guilty verdict and Tuesday he was  sentenced at the Chouteau County Courthouse.

The self proclaimed "climate activist" Leonard Higgins walked into the courtroom Tuesday morning ready to walkout in handcuffs.

Much to his surprise that did not happen.  Judge Daniel Boucher, ordered him to pay almost $4,000 in fines, 10 percent supervision fee and a three year deferred sentence.  
Which meant Higgins will not see the inside of a jail cell and as long has he abides by the law his record will be wiped clean after those 3 years.

"I almost can't believe it. I think this is one of those things that's going to take sometime to accept that im not going to be serving time 
its been hanging over my head for so long,"said Higgins.

Prior to the ruling the prosecution had requested Higgins pay $28,000 to Enbridge for damage they said he caused at their site, which included the cost of employees checking the lines in both the US and Canada. And a 10-year max deferred sentence. 
Judge Boucher didn't agree.  Based on the fact that Higgins wasn't profiting from the crime, had only one prior charge for protesting in Oregon and his age, the judge felt the ruling he handed down was more in line with the actions Higgins took 

"You will be held accountable for your actions in a given situation but this is not going to be a windfall for the corporations the courts aren't going to attempt to crush this type of activism at this point in history," said Lauren Regan, Attorney. 

While the trial itself may have ended with a guilty verdict Higgins said that the ruling  gave him hope for the future and the future of our planet


UPDATE:

Leonard Higgins has been sentenced by Judge Daniel Bousher to pay $3,755.47 plus a 10% supervision fee. In addition, he received a 3-year deferred sentence, meaning once he completes the prior listed requirements without violating any other laws after 3 years, it could be wiped from his record.

He could have faced 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine on the criminal mischief charge alone.


UPDATE:


According to the secretary for the Chouteau County Attorney, they have not agreed upon the amount of restitution Higgins has to pay. His sentencing is scheduled for March 20th in Fort Benton.


UPDATE: 5:28 PM

Fort Benton: Jurors have found Leonard Higgins guilty of criminal mischief and trespassing.  

 When the verdict came down the air in this courtroom was vibrating with anticipation

Moments after the judgment was read, the crowd showed their support of Higgins by forming an honor line 

First thing Wednesday morning Higgins took the stand in his own defense. He explained why he shut off the valve on the spectra energy property in October of last year
He says his actions were a symbolic act against climate change and if he could do it again he would. 

"My only regret is that I didn't start working on this problem sooner as I spoke in my testimony when I neared retirement I looked back on how I spent my time I worked long hours and you know was interested on having a nice house, nice cars and I wish I would have spent more time with my family and I wish I would have known about this problem sooner and joined in with others," said Higgins.  

He said in the months leading up to the incident a huge amount of planning was done to make sure that when he did turn the valve off, no one would get hurt. That included informing Spectra Energy of the plan so they had time to turn off the flow of oil in that pipeline, which they did. 

"We worked really hard to have the action harm neither people nor property," said Higgins.

The prosecution said Higgins is not in custody at this time.   

His sentencing will be held on January second at 2 pm in the Chouteau County Courthouse. 


UPDATE: 1:02 PM

Fort Benton: Jurors have found Leonard Higgins guilty of criminal mischief and trespassing.  

Higgins faces up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine on the criminal mischief charge, a felony. Trespassing is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to six months in county jail and a $500 fine.

Sentencing is scheduled for January 2018.


65-year-old Leonard Higgins turned off an emergency valve at a Spectra Energy site last October just south of Big Sandy.

Not only did the self-proclaimed activist admit to turning the valve off. He videotaped himself doing it.

Higgins was part of a group of people spread out over five states who warned the energy company of their plans to turn off emergency valves. 

Spectra, now Enbridge Inc. took precautionary measures to ensure no damage would be done by stopping the flow of oil.

Tuesday he made his first appearance at the Chouteau County Courthouse in Fort Benton.  Higgins is admitting guilt to trespassing but says he's not guilty of causing $1500 worth of damages. 

"What I can say is that it is our position that he didn't commit a felony,  he committed a misdemeanor and a misdemeanor is what's called a lesser included offense to that felony.  So Mr. Higgins isn't denying that he damaged property, yeah he cut three chains but those three chains are less than $1,500 worth of damage," said defense attorney Herman Watson IV.

Michael Barnes, spokesperson for Enbridge sent KFBB a statement:

"The actions taken last year to unlawfully trespass on our facility and tamper with equipment were dangerous and reckless.  The individuals involved in this activity claim to be protecting the environment, but their actions alone are inviting an environmental incident and put the safety of all people, including themselves, potentially first responders, the community and our employees, at risk.  We take this very seriously and we are supporting the prosecution of all those involved."

The trial is expected to continue Wednesday morning and wrap up by the end if the day. If that is not possible they will pick they will pick back up next Wednesday.

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