Apology to Schuyler County Deputies

Last night, I said something off the cuff in my rally speech at the Town of Reading courthouse that I regret and to which a deputy from the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department rightfully objected.In my speech—which I have since taken down from Facebook and Twitter—I can be heard encouraging defendants at last night’s arraignment to take their time responding to deputies’ orders to enter the locked courthouse. What the viewer cannot see—but what I could see from where I stood while I was speaking—is that some defendants, when they heard their names called by a deputy to enter the Town Hall, began running across the icy sidewalk and parking lot.By themselves, my words seem to suggest that I was encouraging a policy of non-cooperation with law enforcement. That was not my intent. I have therefore removed the video documentation.My words were not well chosen, and for this I apologize to the Schuyler County deputies.

To be sure, I was honestly frustrated. For three consecutive arraignments, the supporters of the We Are Seneca Lake defendants have been locked out of the Reading Town Hall and made to stand outside in freezing and dangerous temperatures.

On the one hand, we are told that the Town Hall, in which the 49-person-capacity courtroom is housed, is a multi-purpose building, not a courthouse, and therefore does not need to be open to the public, even though open courts are guaranteed by both the U.S. Constitution and New York State law. Further, I have been told by Reading Town Supervisor Marvin Switzer that those who seek to observe in the small courtroom “have no business” in the public building that is the Reading Town Hall. Moreover, he alleged, we track dirt into the carpet. With that argument, I myself have been thrice locked out of the building and have suffered in subzero cold along with dozens of other We Are Seneca Lake supporters.

At the same time, the Sheriff also tells us that, by order of Reading Town Court Justice Raymond Berry, no cell phones may be brought into the building at all—not even into the exterior rooms of the Town Hall. Instead, they must remain in unheated cars. When I have questioned that directive, I was told that the court belongs to Justice Berry and is under his jurisdiction. By that definition, the court extends throughout the entire heated building that is the Reading Town Hall.

If it is a court, the Town Hall should be open to the public. If it is not a court, there should be no cell phone prohibition in the hallways and common meeting areas. This contradictory, Catch-22 injustice is a source of frustration to me. I worry a lot about members of the public—many of whom are of Social Security age and all of whom I have invited and encouraged to attend the hearings—standing outside in temperatures low enough to prompt radio station warnings about the need to bring pets indoors. Many people who want to observe in court, and who would happily wait for a seat to open up in the full courtroom, have given up and gone home when compelled to wait outside for an available seat in the small courtroom to open up. Or they don’t come at all.

Nevertheless and to be clear: our campaign at We Are Seneca Lake is firmly directed at Crestwood Midstream, which is threatening public health and safety with dangerous gas storage. It is not directed at law enforcement. Indeed, as I have said before, we understand that Schuyler County law enforcement officers are first responders. We are acting to protect their well-being as well as our own.

We Are Seneca Lake has honest, open communication with the Sheriff’s office and all deputies, some of whom are our arresting officers. Whatever our differences, we need to cultivate mutual respect.

My words last night were at odds with my message and my intent. Here is my correction: Cooperation with the Schuyler County law enforcement is a fundamental part of our campaign.

Sandra Steingraber
 Posted by at 10:46 pm