CINCINNATI (AP) – Defense attorneys including a veteran First Amendment lawyer entered not-guilty pleas Friday for nine Greenpeace activists facing felony charges following a daring demonstration at Procter & Gamble Co. headquarters in Cincinnati.
They were arrested March 4 after protesting the consumer products company’s use of palm oil from a supplier Greenpeace says is tied to tropical forest destruction. Protesters slipped past security and used zip lines to unfurl giant banners from P&G’s two towers, while a helicopter filmed the protest.
A Hamilton County grand jury indicted them on burglary and vandalism counts carrying possible sentences of nine-plus years in prison and $20,000 in fines with convictions.
Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler set May 5 for the next court hearing.
Defense attorneys indicated Friday they wanted to see proof of damages to the P&G buildings, which Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has said totaled $17,000, mainly to windows with broken locks.
Attorney William Gallagher said earlier that the defense questions the damage amount and the level of charges brought against the activists.
“I don’t think it’s proportional to their actions,” said Gallagher. He’s been joined on the defense team by Cincinnati attorney Lou Sirkin, who has represented clients including Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and, in 1990, a Cincinnati arts center director acquitted on allegations of obscenity for displaying an exhibit by the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Gallagher and Hamilton County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier both said separately it’s too early to discuss whether a plea agreement will be considered. Piepmeier said outside the courtroom that P&G’s feelings about the protest could play a part.
“The outcome of these charges will be determined by the facts of the defendants’ conduct, and the law,” P&G spokesman Paul Fox said Friday. He added that the damage figure comes from a repair company’s estimate, and referred other questions to the prosecutor’s office.
Local authorities were stunned by the security breach at P&G, known for restricting access to protect its personnel and its innovations on such best-selling brands as Pampers diapers and Tide detergent. Cincinnati’s police chief called for a security meeting with downtown businesses.
P&G has described it as a well-planned protest, saying one protester gained access via P&G office space that is leased to another company. The activist allegedly claimed to have an appointment, and then let the others in through a back door. Deters has said that the protesters entered P&G dressed in business attire with rolling suitcases.
Greenpeace has defended the action as a peaceful protest meant to draw attention to an important issue.
Palm oil is commonly used in shampoo, cosmetics and other products. P&G says it is committed to achieving a fully sustainable supply of palm oil by 2015.
The nine activists spent a night in jail after the protest and were released the next day on $50,000 bond each, set by a Hamilton County judge who rebuked them for what he called a dangerous and ill-advised stunt. All nine live in other states.
Among the items activists used in the protest was a tiger suit one wore to represent endangered Sumatran tigers in Indonesia, where they say a P&G supplier is contributing to deforestation.
At the time of the indictment, Deters said 24 police officers and two companies of firefighters were diverted to the 90-minute protest.
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