On Monday, outside of the Fall River Justice Center near the border of Rhode Island, Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter addressed a gaggle of eager reporters gathered for what they thought would be a multi-day hearing for two men who blocked a 40,000-ton shipment of coal from reaching New England’s largest power station last May. However, Sutter shocked everyone by dropping the charges in under an hour, leaving the group anxious to understand what led to his decision to reduce the conspiracy, disturbing the peace, and two other civil disobedience charges against the climate activists. Having anchored a lobster boat in the freighter’s shipping channel, the climate activists delayed the delivery of coal for a day in an effort to delay the impacts of climate change by raising awareness. Facing up to nine months in jail, they were suddenly off the hook.
“Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced,” Sutter said after explaining that the decision was made with the interests of the people of Bristol County in mind. “In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking.”
The defendants, Jay O’Hara, 32, and Ken Ward, 57, who accepted all charges for blocking the tons of Appalachian coal that the “Energy Enterprise” was bringing to port, had submitted an uncommon and unused defense for their actions: the necessity defense. They argued that they had no choice but to act because the consequences of climate change are so dire. It just so happened that Sutter agreed with them.