Trial Concludes With Cove Point Activist’s Emotional Testimony

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Above Photo: Heather Doyle in front of the Cove Point Lighthouse

Heather Doyle gave a tearful account in Calvert County Circuit Court on Thursday about how a Sheriff’s deputy assaulted her, a story which State’s attorneys assert is untrue. This was the third day of her trial on the charge of making a false statement to police stemming from a demonstration against Dominion Cove Point in February 2015.

By the end of the day, closing statements were delivered, and the verdict lay in the hands of the jury.

On February 3, 2015, Doyle and Carling Sothoron climbed the boom of a crane on a Dominion Cove Point construction site, and Sothoron dropped a banner from the top which read, “Dominion get out. Don’t frack Maryland. No gas exports. Save Cove Point.” At the end of April 2015, Doyle and Sothoron filed official complaints with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) alleging endangerment and, in Doyle’s case, assault by an officer.

Sheriff’s deputies were cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation into the complaint by Sgt. James Goldsmith of CCSO internal affairs in May 2015. The County then filed charges against the women for making a false statement. The jury must now decide whether Doyle deliberately made up the story of her assault and allegations of unsafe conduct by officers, then filed the complaint with the intention of wasting police resources.

Doyle’s voice cracked as she recounted how, while her arms were held back by law enforcement officers, Sgt. Vlad Bortchevsky pushed his forearm into her larynx for as much as 20 seconds, then pulled back enough for her to say, “I can’t breathe.”

“He looked at me, then he pressed again,” she said.

She also claimed that Sgt. Bortchevsky stepped onto her chest and pushed down with his boot while she was still strapped to the crane with her climbing harness and gear.

Sgt. Bortchevsky, who is 6’4” tall and weighs 285 lbs., denied using force on Doyle when he took the stand on Wednesday, saying that his boot only brushed Doyle as he moved past her. Another officer, Dfc. Robert “Bubba” Brady, testified that Bortchevsky’s boot briefly “stopped” on Doyle’s chest. Other officers testified that they did not see any assault or use of force. The nurse at the detention facility did not note any injuries which might have been incurred from an assault.

Doyle also said that deputies endangered her and her climbing partner, Carling Sothoron, who was at the top of the crane boom. The officers untied ropes, removed carabiners and eliminated what she regarded as crucial redundancies in her rigging. They instead hooked carabiners to each other over a cable—an unsafe practice in itself–which she said might have allowed her to slide toward the crane cab or fall to the ground.

State’s Attorney Kathryn Marsh attempted to portray Doyle as an overzealous activist keen to keep the media spotlight on herself in service of her agenda: obstructing the Dominion Cove Point fracked gas terminal. She said that Doyle was angry when two deputies received an award for their actions on the crane on that day and retaliated with the official complaint.

The jury deliberated for two hours before court adjourned. It will reconvene on Friday morning.

Friends, relatives and supporters of Doyle have been in attendance in the courtroom during her trial. They include residents of the Cove Point neighborhood, where the Dominion export terminal is under construction.

“I don’t see any reason that she would make this up,” said Lili Sheeline, who owns a house with her husband at Cove Point. “I do see reason that they would build a false case. The relationship between Dominion and the Sheriff’s department really concerns me. I don’t know who they work for.”

Sheriff Mike Evans testified today that the County has a longstanding contract with Dominion, and the Sheriff’s Office received $1.4 million from the corporation in 2015, which is equal to about 10% of the department’s budget. The Sheriff also has received campaign contributions from Dominion. He denied that this funding gives Dominion undue influence.

Nevertheless, many residents still have misgivings. Linda Morin, also present in court in support of Doyle, says that she and her husband were pulled over by a Calvert County Sheriff’s Deputy in May 2014 for not wearing seat belts, even though their car has tinted windows and they were in fact wearing seat belts. She believes the car was targeted because of a “Stop Cove Point” bumper sticker.

“I will never call the Sheriff’s Office for anything because I do not trust them,” she said.