A mistrial was declared on Thursday in the criminal proceedings against environmental activist Ken Ward, who was facing three felony charges after he shut off a valve on the Washington state pipeline to stop the flow of tar sands oil last October.
The Skagit County jury couldn’t reach a verdict on any of the charges after deliberating for five hours, following the two-day trial.
“I think it is a huge victory,” Ken Ward told Willamette Week. “It means that at least some on the jury were unwilling to convict me on either count.”
“Frankly, I’m surprised,” he added. “The whole trial took two days because there was really nothing for me to say. Even with that there were members of the jury that wouldn’t convict. I think that’s huge.”
Ward was facing three felony charges and one misdemeanor charge for breaking a lock and shutting off a valve on the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Burlington, Washington state on October 11, 2016 in an act of civil disobedience. The pipeline transports tar sands oil into the US from Canada for refinement. Ward was facing 30 years in jail if convicted of all charges.
Ward broadcast the act live on Facebook, with footage showing him cutting two chains to enter the valve site and closing the valve as part of a coordinated protest. Activists carried out similar acts of civil disobedience in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. Nine were arrested.
Ward’s legal team had planned to argue a “necessity defense” which would have claimed that Ward in his three decades of activism had exhausted all legal options of stopping climate change, and the government, through its inaction, had forced him to break the law.
A week before the trial began, Judge Michael Rickert said he wouldn’t allow Ward’s attorneys to go that route.
“I don’t know what everybody’s beliefs are on [climate change], but I know that there’s tremendous controversy over the fact whether it even exists,” Judge Rickert said, according to the Guardian. “And even if people believe that it does or it doesn’t, the extent of what we’re doing to ourselves and our climate and our planet, there’s great controversy over that.”
Over the course of the two-day trial, Ward said he was not allowed to offer “whole swaths of climate science” in defense, and couldn’t discuss earlier activism. Ward had previously served as the deputy director of Greenpeace USA.
Ward thinks Skagit County prosecutors could call for a new trial as early as next week.
Environmental activists Patrick Mazza told reporters after the court announcement: “This is phenomenal. The jury was out for five hours and there were no facts in dispute here so even though the judge didn’t allow that climate information introduced in the trial as a ‘necessity defense.’ “
“There is a lesson in this that ordinary people who feel a call of conscience will respond. They won’t just sit down to authority.“
“I would encourage people to resist, engage in direct action if you can, and at very least raise your voice about the importance of moving on climate, raise it to your elected officials. They don’t hear it from people. …Get engaged. Find a local group to work with. If there is no group, create a group.”