The protesters who shut down Houston Ship Channel during the Democratic debate on Thursday were released from jail Saturday after pleading not guilty in federal court for their roles in a daylong Greenpeace USA protest of the oil industry.
Each protester was charged with aiding and abetting obstruction of navigable waters, and faces up to a year in prison or a $2,500 fine if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas’ office. The 11 people who repelled from the Fred Hartman Bridge to block shipping traffic and their 11 “spotters” were released Saturday on personal recognizance bonds.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Valentina Stackl said they have been in jail on related state charges since the protests began Thursday. The 22 people in court Saturday live in 13 different states and the District of Columbia, but none reside in Texas.
Stackl said the organization has heard that some of the black and trans protesters “received bad treatment during their time in jail,” and she said they want to make sure whoever is responsible is held accountable.
The group of protesters, along with four others, are also facing state felony charges of impairing or interrupting operation of a critical infrastructure facility.
Those charges stem from the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which took effect Sept. 1 after the Texas Legislature passed it earlier this year. Stackl said this case is the first time it’s been used in Texas. The charge is a state jail felony, which can carry a jail sentence of between 180 days and two years.
“It’s the first of its kind in the state, and so we’ll have to see where that goes,” Stackl said. “Like we said before, it’s the climate crisis and it requires bold action, so I think we’re all committed to that.”
The protesters have a state court setting scheduled for Monday. It’s unclear when they will be due back in federal court. On Thursday, as Democratic presidential hopefuls filed into the city for the debate, 11 of the protesters repelled from the busy Fred Hartman Bridge, blocking all shipping traffic in the Houston Ship Channel.
It was intended to “confront the oil industry” by blocking the country’s largest ship channel while the top-polling presidential prospects entered the city.
“All eyes on Houston during the debate, I think it’s a great opportunity to ask our leadership to step up and take bold action,” Stackl said.
The protesters intended to stay there for 24 hours, but authorities had retrieved all of them by 1:30 a.m., according to Greenpeace. In all, the channel was blocked for 18 hours.
Port officials have said the protest wasn’t expected to create any lasting impacts on the channel. Retired Coast Guard Capt. Bill Diehl, president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau trade organization, has said it wouldn’t “put us in any position that we can’t recover quickly from.”
Here are those facing federal charges:
-Zeph Fishlyn, 52, Oakland, Calif.
-Russell Seiji Tamura, 29, Oakland, Calif.
-Richard A. Sisney, 32, Oakland, Calif.
-Cole Asher Taylor-Martin, 35, Fullerton, Calif.
-Jayden Allen, 20, Warrensburg, Mo.
-Dakota P. Schee, 25, Kansas City, Mo.
-Jonathan Butler, 29, Washington, D.C.
-Tracye Redd, 28, Washington, D.C.
-Ryan Harris, 41, Olympia, Wash.
-Piper Werle, 29, Port Orchard, Wash.
-Brianna Gibson, 28, Brooklyn, N.Y.
-Irene Kim, 26, Jerico, N.Y.
-Julie A. McElvain, 36, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
-Chelsee Price, 23, Denver, Colo.
-Christan Bufford, 32, Ellerwood, Ga.
-Sydney Clifford, 21, Portland, Oregon
-Heather Doyle, 35, Albequrque, N.M.
-Michael Herbert, 36, Hyattsville, Md.
-Tyler N. McFarland, 27, Dover, N.H.
-Sarah Newman, 42, Lexington, Ky.
-Heidi Nybroten, 26, Minneapolis, Minn.
-Shevone Torres, 39, Pennsauken, N.J.