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Protesters from DeChristopher sentencing released from jail

Published July 27, 2011 11:13 am

Court • 26 arrested for blocking TRAX, Main Street traffic.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

All 26 of the protesters arrested after blocking a downtown street and TRAX rail line following Tim DeChristopher's sentencing to federal prison have been released.

Salt Lake County Jail Lt. Mike DeNiro said Wednesday that the last of those arrested near 400 S. Main Street late Tuesday afternoon was released by 11 p.m. Of the 26 originally arrested for refusing to disperse, seven later chose to be issued citations instead of being jailed.

Through the course of Tuesday evening, the remaining 19 were booked into jail on charges of failure to comply with a peace officer, obstructing vehicular traffic and obstructing the public transit operation.

DeNiro said given jail crowding issues and misdemeanor nature of the charges, all 19 were given pre-trial releases.

Salt Lake City police arrested the protesters on suspicion of unlawful assembly, failure to disperse and obstructing a roadway. Those offenses are misdemeanors or infractions, but Scott Fisher, first assistant prosecutor for Salt Lake City, said his office still needs to decide if those are the charges that will be filed.

Fisher said the prosecutor's office can make its own decision on what, if any, crimes a defendant can be charged with.

"You just have to review each case and see what the facts are," said Fisher, who added he has not yet received the police reports.

Fisher said the protesters who took citations will likely have to begin appearing in court Aug. 9. The protesters who went to jail will be issued court dates after charges are filed.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson told DeChristopher that it was his comments, in addition to his 2008 disruption of a federal oil and gas lease auction, that combined to put him in prison for the next two years.

Benson referred to DeChristopher's continued defiance and frequent assertions to reporters that civil disobedience is justified in fighting climate change. He mentioned DeChristopher's speech after his March conviction, in which the activist encouraged others to follow his example.

Many did just that. Just after the judge left for his chambers, one DeChristopher supporter shouted, "This court is broken. … Is this a corporate court or our court?"

"Our court!" responded a small crowd of supporters.

Outside, police made more than two dozen arrests as protesters sat in front of a TRAX train and brought Main Street traffic to a halt during the afternoon commute.

DeChristopher, 29, made $1.8 million in bogus bids for 15 eastern Utah oil leases. Ultimately, BLM officials had to suspend the auction.

He remained in Davis County Jail in Farmington on Wednesday, where he was booked Tuesday on a no-bail U.S. marshals hold.

remims@sltrib.com

Nate Carlisle contributed to this report.