This Louisiana Parish Allowed a Quarter of Its Sheriff’s Deputies To Work Security for a Pipeline

Water protectors say the swamp was swarming with uniformed police working for the company.

Karen Savage and Sarah Lazare

St. Martin Parish Sheriff's deputies arrest water protector Cherri Foytlin on Sept. 4, 2018 on a remote piece of land in the Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana. (Photo: Karen Savage)

ST. MAR­TIN PARISH, LOUISIANA — As con­struc­tion equip­ment roared back to life, oppo­nents of the Bay­ou Bridge Pipeline — part of the larg­er project con­nect­ing the Dako­ta Access pipeline to refiner­ies in Louisiana — shook their heads in dis­may. They had spent hours explain­ing to sheriff’s deputies that Ener­gy Trans­fer, the com­pa­ny build­ing the pipeline, did not have the required per­mis­sion from landown­ers to begin con­struc­tion — a fact lat­er con­firmed by a judge.

Arrestees had no way of knowing that they were being questioned, detained and handcuffed by off-duty police.

But on that day in Sep­tem­ber 2018 under Louisiana’s scorch­ing sum­mer sun, there was no con­vinc­ing the deputies from the St. Mar­tin Parish Sheriff’s Office. Instead, they told the activists — who call them­selves water pro­tec­tors — they would be arrest­ed on felony tres­pass­ing charges.

Why are you work­ing for this com­pa­ny?” asked an inde­pen­dent reporter. Like the water pro­tec­tors, she had received per­mis­sion to be there by a landowner.

Do it look like I’m work­ing for this com­pa­ny? Do this com­pa­ny pay me? I work for the sheriff’s office,” replied Lt. Jay Capterville.

Records show that Capter­ville — who was stand­ing sock-foot­ed, his issued uni­form and weapon caked with mud, shoes lost hours before along the half-mile trek to the remote site — was, in fact, not on the clock for the sheriff’s office that day. As for why he was in the swamp in uni­form, there’s a like­ly expla­na­tion: He’s among the 58 sheriff’s deputies grant­ed per­mis­sion to moon­light for Hub Enter­pris­es, which is Ener­gy Transfer’s secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor for the Bay­ou Bridge project. Capter­ville did not respond to requests for com­ment by deadline.

In Octo­ber 2018, the sheriff’s office grant­ed the deputies retroac­tive per­mis­sion to work with Hub Enter­pris­es, account­ing for 27% of the parish’s sheriff’s deputies. No request was denied. Of 19 deputies iden­ti­fied at the site between Aug. 1, 2018, and Oct. 13, 2018, all but five were off the clock. 

Such a high per­cent­age real­ly calls into ques­tion the fun­da­men­tal fair­ness of what peo­ple who go up against the pipeline can expect,” says Bill Quigley, a law pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola Uni­ver­si­ty New Orleans who is rep­re­sent­ing the arrest­ed water pro­tec­tors. It looks like the St. Mar­tin Parish Sheriff’s Office is a branch of the pipeline company.”

Cen­tered in Lafayette, Hub Enter­pris­es describes itself as among the largest secu­ri­ty com­pa­nies in the south­ern Unit­ed States.” In These Times was unable to deter­mine whether Hub Enter­pris­es pro­vides secu­ri­ty for oth­er com­pa­nies in St. Mar­tin Parish. Hub Enter­pris­es declined a request for comment.

Tak­ing an exam­ple from the anti-labor move­ments around min­ing a cen­tu­ry ago,” says Cher­ri Foytlin, a water pro­tec­tor who serves on the indige­nous women’s advi­so­ry coun­cil of the L’eau Est La Vie (Water Is Life) protest camp, the oil com­pa­nies are now hir­ing Pinker­ton men who serve cor­po­rate prof­its at the sac­ri­fice of basic human rights and needs.”

Six­teen peo­ple were arrest­ed in the parish between Aug. 1, 2018, and Oct. 13, 2018, on charges of felony tres­pass­ing. Off-the-clock deputies made up the major­i­ty — or all — of the deputies who could be iden­ti­fied on the scene of the arrests. One of the arrestees was a jour­nal­ist report­ing on the pipeline and a coau­thor of this report, Karen Sav­age; the oth­er 15 were water protectors.

Arrestees had no way of know­ing that they were being ques­tioned, detained and hand­cuffed by off-duty police. The offi­cers wore full uni­forms and used parish-issued weapons and tech. Some, like Capter­ville, denied they were work­ing for a third party.

The arrestees were charged under Louisiana’s new crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture” law, which makes tres­pass­ing on oil pipelines a felony, pun­ish­able by up to five years in prison. Ener­gy Trans­fer was among the oil com­pa­nies that lob­bied to pass the leg­is­la­tion in Louisiana and Iowa. Based on a mod­el bill by the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil, such laws have been passed in five states, and the Trump admin­is­tra­tion recent­ly pro­posed a fed­er­al version.

In a law­suit filed in May, water pro­tec­tors, landown­ers and sev­er­al envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions asked a fed­er­al court to declare the law a vio­la­tion of the First Amend­ment. (Co-author Karen Sav­age is a plaintiff.)

Quigley, who also rep­re­sents the plain­tiffs in the con­sti­tu­tion­al chal­lenge, tells In These Times, It’s par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­bling in this cir­cum­stance because the petro­chem­i­cal lob­by cre­at­ed and passed this law over the objec­tion of cit­i­zens, then they hired tax­pay­er fund­ed pub­lic law enforce­ment to be their pri­vate secu­ri­ty, then direct­ed those pri­vate secu­ri­ty peo­ple to arrest peo­ple under the law that’s ques­tion­able to begin with.”

Many of the arrests occurred on con­test­ed prop­er­ty, where a judge lat­er ruled Ener­gy Trans­fer did not have per­mis­sion to be. The off-duty deputies choked and pep­per-sprayed water pro­tec­tors, and alleged­ly stunned one indi­vid­ual with a Taser and tack­led Foytlin. 

Anne White Hat, an indige­nous water pro­tec­tor who serves with Foytlin on the camp’s advi­so­ry coun­cil, was arrest­ed moments after lead­ing a prayer cer­e­mo­ny at a pub­lic boat ramp on Sept., 2018. Every deputy who could be iden­ti­fied at the scene was off-duty.

Deputies claimed there was a war­rant out for White Hat’s arrest. If you have a war­rant for my arrest, I want you to show it to me now,” said White Hat as a deputy pulled back her arms and hand­cuffed her. Months lat­er, she said she has still not seen evi­dence that the war­rant exist­ed at the time.

She says she was placed in the back of a St. Mar­tin Parish Sher­if­f’s Office cruis­er and dri­ven for about an hour on nar­row coun­try roads through the sug­ar cane fields of south Louisiana before reach­ing the jail, a trip that should have tak­en about 25 minutes.

About halfway into the ride, she says, she was trans­ferred to anoth­er vehicle.

When the cop car stopped and the ETP cop in St. Mar­tin Parish Sheriff’s uni­form got out and walked to the back of the truck, the thought did cross my mind if this is the part where I dis­ap­pear,” White Hat says.

It was ter­ri­fy­ing for sure — there was no one around to wit­ness the exchange and I wasn’t actu­al­ly sure at that point if I would make it to the jail. Now I’m even more angry that ETP lit­er­al­ly bought St Mar­tin Parish Sheriff’s deputies.”

Hub pre­vi­ous­ly hired off-duty Louisiana pro­ba­tion and parole offi­cers to work secu­ri­ty for the Ener­gy Trans­fer project. But after offi­cers using depart­ment-issued gear refused to iden­ti­fy them­selves and vio­lent­ly pulled water pro­tec­tors from kayaks in ear­ly August, the Louisiana Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safe­ty and Cor­rec­tions revoked its offi­cers’ per­mis­sion to work for Hub.

Two months lat­er, the St. Mar­tin Parish Sheriff’s Office start­ed grant­i­ng deputies retroac­tive per­mis­sion to work for Hub Enter­pris­es on Sat­ur­days and Sundays.

The St. Mar­tin deputies appeared to be work­ing more than their approved shifts, how­ev­er. Records and pho­tos show off-duty deputies rou­tine­ly present at the site on days oth­er than Sat­ur­day or Sun­day, and at least four arrests were made on week­days by off-duty officers.

Ener­gy Trans­fer, for­mer­ly known as Ener­gy Trans­fer Part­ners, is the same com­pa­ny whose secu­ri­ty likened Stand­ing Rock water pro­tec­tors to jihadists, bru­tal­ly attacked them with dogs and sprayed them with water can­nons in freez­ing temperatures.

Alex­is Daniel, spokesper­son for Ener­gy Trans­fer, told In These Times that the com­pa­ny hired secu­ri­ty to mon­i­tor our con­struc­tion sites for the safe­ty of our work­ers and those in the sur­round­ing area” and that they do not tol­er­ate ille­gal activ­i­ty on our right of ways, nor activ­i­ties that would put our work­ers or oth­er landown­ers in close prox­im­i­ty in danger.”

Foytlin rejects this nar­ra­tive: Why would this sher­if­f’s depart­ment be allowed to be a trai­tor to work­ing-class folks by not pro­tect­ing life, but pro­tect­ing prof­it as a priority?”

Karen Sav­age is an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who has cov­ered envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice com­mu­ni­ties exten­sive­ly. She was arrest­ed twice under Louisiana’s felony tres­pass law while report­ing on resis­tance to the Bay­ou Bridge pipeline, includ­ing for this piece. Sarah Lazare is a reporter and web edi­tor with In These Times.
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