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Delay in disorderly conduct charge decision of ‘glittergate’

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
Stefan Warner, Doug Parr and Moriah Stephenson after the courtroom hearing of their disorderly conduct case.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – No decision has been made yet whether Moriah Stephenson, 29, and Stefan Warner, 28, will be faced with a $500 fee each based off of their disorderly conduct charge for their involvement in a nonviolent protest at the Devon Energy Tower on December 13, 2013.

Municipal court Judge Phillipa James presided over the no-jury trial Thursday morning in which the prosecution gathered five witnesses against Stephenson, Warner and their defense attorney, Doug Parr.

On the morning of Dec. 13 of that year, Stephenson, Warner and members under the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance Coalition began a demonstration in- and outside of the tower. Stephenson and Warner unfurled one 5-foot by 12-foot red banner off of the second floor rotunda that read “The Odds Are Never in Our Favor” with a black glitter border – based off of the series The Hunger Games, while one other member hung another banner opposite of them. There were also two members who locked themselves in the revolving doors of the Sheridan Avenue entrance to the tower.

“The purpose of the demonstration was to raise awareness of Devon Energy’s involvement in tar sands extraction and the environmentally racist nature of the tar sands extraction,” Stephenson told the courtroom.

Environmental racism is a sociological term that highlights the disproportionate ways the oil and gas development occurs, privileging oil and gas companies while disenfranchising communities of color and low income rural communities.

“Our intent was to highlight that the odds are never in our favor, our being the people’s favor,” she continued. “Particularly with tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, at the point of extraction, at the point of transportation, at the point of refining from Canada down through Texas, environmental racism occurs at every point and we wanted to raise awareness about how this creates a situation in which the odds are never in our favor.”

(Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance Coalition)

Devon Energy’s involvement, Stephenson said, was that the CEO at the time sat on the board of TransCanada – the corporation that planned the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. “Additionally, Devon Energy was named oil sands, which is a euphemism for tar sands, producer five years in a row.”

Whereas Stephenson was not part of the creation of the banners, Warner was. He helped secure paint and glitter from Michael’s Craft Stores. He stated that the black glitter was applied to the wet paint, assuming it would remain on the banner.

Mary Paltani is the commercial property manager with Heinz who is a contractor for Devon Energy hired to manage the facility. She was on the second floor a few feet from Stephenson and Warner when they were asked by her what they were doing.

“They didn’t look like they belonged there,” Paltani said.

Warner told Paltani they were with Devon’s marketing department and they were hanging holiday banners.

Paltani stood back as they secured and unfurled it when she alarmingly noticed “black stuff going all down the floor.” To which Warner said to her, “That’s OK, that’s just glitter.”

She quickly pulled the banner up and had one of her employees go to the other side to pull up the second banner. After doing so, she went down the stairs.

She noticed “a lot of black on the floor and even though they said it was glitter, they lied about being Devon employees so I couldn’t just take their word that it was glitter.”

Paltani said their janitorial staff began cleaning it up, and then realized she touched the banner and thought they could have all contaminated themselves because they didn’t know what the substance was.

While she was pulling up the banner she yelled for security who then called the police.

Oklahoma City Police Department Officer Travis Vernier was called to Devon as “a high priority call regarding a possible protest, powdery substance dumped inside the building, it was unclear if this substance was dangerous, it was possible this was some kind of terrorist act,” he said.

Traffic was stopped and crime scene tape had been put up once they arrived.

Vernier was the one who placed Stephenson in an investigative detention and put her in the back of his police car, asking questions about what had happened to which she responded cooperatively.

Investigative detention occurs to determine what was happening to see if there is probable cause to arrest.

Members of the GPTSRC during a court recess. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

During the closing statements Parr said the city has failed to prove their case due to the fact that the defendants did not intend to spill the black glitter on the floor and cause public alarm.

The prosecutor argued in turn that “anyone who has been through kindergarten knows that glitter falls from anything, regardless of how it was applied.” Also, that the First Amendment does not protect against prosecution against a criminal offense.

James stated she will make her decision and announce it next week.

During a short recess, coalition ally Nathaniel Batchelder said he thought the process was going very well.

“The process is making it very clear that the banners and the demonstration and the powder were no threat to anybody,” Batchelder said. “We just heard a woman who was there. She said she walked through the powder … so there was really no concern of the people who were there. I think it was a free speech demonstration.

“The earth and all of nature call on us to resist development of the Canadian tar sands. These nonviolent demonstrators are heroes of the global environmental movement.”

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Sarah Hussain

Director of Communications

Virginia native, Sarah Hussain, has...

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