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Facing South

Video documents miner, state police harassment of mountaintop removal protesters in West Virginia

Activists are calling for a federal investigation of police brutality for actions during a July 28 mountaintop removal mining protest in rural Lincoln County, W.Va.

One of 20 people arrested in a nonviolent protest at Patriot Coal's Hobet 45 mine, the largest surface mine in the state, Dustin Steele was released on bail yesterday from the Western Regional Jail after sustaining what have been characterized as "significant injuries" that he says he sustained from a beating by West Virginia State Police while he was in custody.

"While the State Police in conjunction with the coal companies tried to break our spirit and our resistance by using violence to quell the fire of our movement, this attempt has failed," said Steele, who was born and raised in Matewan, W.Va. by a coal mining family.

Protesters who left the mine when ordered to do so by the State Police were forced to march down the road for four hours under constant harassment and threats by coal supporters, as is documented in the video below from Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival (RAMPS), the group behind the protest. The police ordered supporters in waiting vehicles to leave, telling them the road was closed to non-residents. However, the officers allowed pro-coal counter-demonstrators into the area to harass and threaten the protesters.

When the protesters did meet up with their rides following their four-hour walk, counter-demonstrators blockaded the road, and it took police an hour and a half to respond. Once the road was cleared and the protesters left, they were followed by counter-demonstrators with "Friends of Coal" placards in their cars and harassed all the way to Charleston.

Friends of Coal was created by the West Virginia Coal Association to promote the mining industry. The group was criticized for promoting a 2011 pro-coal rally as a "call to arms"; adding to the controversy was that the rally was planned for shortly after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

One woman who was arrested at last week's mountaintop removal protest was allegedly dragged away by her hair, while another arrestee, Jonathan Sidney, was dropped off alone on a remote road with hostile miners nearby after having his phone and debit card confiscated. He says he was not read his Miranda Rights though he was held by police for an hour.

Bail for those who were arrested was set at $25,000 -- 25 times the maximum fine for the charges of trespassing and obstruction that they received.

The protesters are petitioning U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw to investigate. They are also planning to file a formal complaint with the State Police.

"Folks who came here to demonstrate against mountaintop removal and all its atrocities in a way that did not threaten or cause and harm to human life were put in unsafe situations, and police allowed that to continue, just like they've allowed that to continue in the past," Sidney says. "That's what it looks like when the West Virginia State Police operates on behalf of the coal industry."

Watch the full video here:



(In the photo above, a still from the video, mountaintop removal protesters are followed by pro-coal counter-demonstrators in a truck while another coal supporter blasts them with an air horn.)

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