FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Huntingdon, PA – Four Pennsylvania residents filed a federal lawsuit on Monday alleging that their constitutional rights to protest were violated by pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners and others acting on their behalf.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Monday morning, alleges that the plaintiffs’ rights were violated by the company and those acting in concert with or on behalf of the company during protests against the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, over the course of a year and a half.
The plaintiffs include Ellen and Elise Gerhart, residents of Huntingdon County, Alexander Lotorto and Elizabeth Glunt, both residents of Pennsylvania. They name eight separate violations of rights under federal and state laws by Energy Transfer Partners, their private security firm TigerSwan, the Huntingdon County Sheriff’s Department, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the creator of a Facebook page aimed at targeting, discrediting and inciting violence against the Gerharts and their supporters.
The Gerharts have publicly opposed the pipeline project and resisted the use of eminent domain for its construction through their rural Huntingdon County property since mid-2015.
In March 2016, the family and supporters used tree-sitting as an attempt to blockade preemptive clearcutting of their private property. Ellen Gerhart, Lotorto and Glunt were arrested and incarcerated, and Elise Gerhart was criminally charged. Charges against the defendants were dropped in November 2016, and a peaceful protest and blockade of construction continues on the family’s property to this day.
“Since May of 2015, every day of my life has been affected by the plans to build this pipeline, and the lengths that Energy Transfer Partners will go to in the pursuit of profit,” said Elise Gerhart. “At Standing Rock, the company used mercenaries, police and any other forces at their disposal to trample people’s rights and push them out of the way. That’s the same effect that they’ve brought to my family’s home. We’ve been needlessly harassed by agencies and violently threatened by individuals who’ve been intentionally incited and mobilized. I shouldn’t have to walk around with a target on my back simply because I love my family, care about the environment, and choose to exercise my rights.”
Energy Transfer Partners is also the owner of the highly contested Dakota Access pipeline, which was the subject of massive demonstrations and police, military, and private security mobilization and response near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation last year.
“The role of law enforcement should be to enforce the law and protect citizens,” said Ellen Gerhart. “Unfortunately, what we experienced last year was the arrest of peaceful protesters, and the pursuit of charges which could not be prosecuted. Our right to peacefully object to an unconstitutional and dangerous pipeline should be protected over the profit margin of these corporations.”
“Energy Transfer Partners and its collaborators are directing a campaign against the Gerhart family and their allies,” said Christopher Markos, attorney for the plaintiffs. “They’ve sought to discredit them, use the power of government against them, and incite violence against them. The Constitution shields their most basic rights to protect and enjoy their property and to protest.”
The plaintiffs are being represented jointly by attorney Markos of Williams Cedar LLC and Rich Raiders Esq. of Lengert & Raiders LLC.