Nine people dubbed the “Aegis 9,” who were arrested while protesting the christening of the USS Thomas Hudner at Bath Iron Works on April 1, were acquitted of all charges Feb. 1.

The nine individuals, who were protesting BIW’s construction of warships and advocating for a change in production at the facility, were charged with criminal trespassing. Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings granted a motion for judgment of acquittal, citing improper application of the law by Bath police and a lack of ordinances in the city.

“Ultimately, what it comes down to for the court, is that these defendants were denied access to BIW property, because immediately before approaching BIW property, they were engaged in lawful political expression across the street,” said Justice Billings.

“They weren’t ordered to step aside and let others enter; they weren’t ordered to remove their signs; they were simply ordered to leave a property that – at that time – was open to the public.”

He also criticized Bath Police Lt. Robert Savary’s handling of the incident, particularly with the arrest of Jason Rawn. “The law requires law enforcement to give a person a reasonable opportunity to comply with an order before effects awaiting an arrest. I didn’t time it here, but Mr. Rawn was arrested in mere seconds of the order being given by Lt. Savary.”

Justice Billings also criticized Bath police for seeming to take orders from BIW security.

“Here, the testimony is basically the police department is outsourced to BIW on these events,” he said. “The city, in considering whether it’s a lawful order or not, has to consider the bigger picture and not simply focus on the views of BIW.”

Additional criticism was directed towards city ordinances, including the lack of any real standards for protests on city streets. Justice Billings has presided over a couple cases regarding protests at BIW, and said Bath’s ordinances leave the city vulnerable to legal challenge.

“It’s clear to me at both of these trials that the City of Bath needs to consider the legal standards that applies to this kind of activity,” he said. “The City of Bath has no ordinances, has no standards, that govern protests on city streets. That law enforcement is given unfettered discretion.”

That lack of any concrete standards, he said, could cause issues in the future for the city.

“The law is clear that when a city gives unfettered discretion to law enforcement, it doesn’t come down to whether law enforcement is reasonable or not. There has to be standards if law enforcement is going to deny access to city streets,” he said. “The city is really risking putting themselves at legal risk by continuing in that manner.”

Protesters said the trial and arrest was a demonstration of BIW’s influence on Bath.

“The obvious take away for us is the enormous power that General Dynamics has over the City of Bath and the State of Maine,” said Bruce Gagnon, one of the Aegis 9 and member of Veterans for Peace. The group is also protesting a proposed $60 million in tax credits being offered General Dynamics by the State of Maine.

As of press deadline, representatives for the City of Bath could not be reached for comment. Whether the city is planning to address its ordinances on protests is unknown at this time.

filed under: