CHRISTIANSBURG — Another round of cases tied to ongoing opposition of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was resolved last week as one protester who unintentionally kicked a Virginia state trooper and another who chained himself to a helicopter had their days in Montgomery County court.
Dozens of such cases have wound through the region’s courts in recent years as protesters continue trying to block the West Virginia-to-Pittsylvania County route of the natural gas pipeline system.
In Montgomery General District Court on Tuesday, Maura Elizabeth Finn, 24, of Alexandria, faced charges of assaulting a Virginia state trooper, fleeing from police and obstructing a right of way, all stemming from a July 2019 incident. A plea agreement amended the obstruction charge to trespassing, and the assault and flight charges were dropped.
Finn pleaded not guilty to trespassing but agreed there was enough evidence to convict her. Judge Randal Duncan convicted her of the misdemeanor, imposed a $150 fine and ordered her to stay out of Montgomery County and off Mountain Valley Pipeline property for 12 months.
Chris Tuck of Blacksburg, who represented Finn, said after the hearing that the most serious charge against his client, assaulting an officer, came from an accidental act.
“Maura very much believes in nonviolent protest,” Tuck said.
When officers told protesters to leave a pipeline access right of way, Finn went limp so that officers had to carry her out, Tuck said. When a trooper shifted his grip on Finn’s leg, it brought her foot up to hit the officer, who was not injured, Tuck said.
In Montgomery Circuit Court on Thursday, it was the turn of Galen Sol Shireman-Grabowski, 24, of Tucson, Ariz.
In October 2019, Shireman-Grabowski locked himself to a helicopter used by pipeline crews, according to a prosecution summary of the case. He attached himself to the rotor atop the helicopter and eventually was cut free by police officers. The helicopter’s pitch link was damaged during the incident, the prosecution said.
In a plea agreement worked out with Shireman-Grabowski’s attorney, Dennis Nagel of Christiansburg, three charges were dropped: interfering with operation of an aircraft, obstructing free passage, and wearing a mask in public. Shireman-Grabowski pleaded guilty to felony destruction of property, obstruction of justice, tampering with a vehicle, and entering someone else’s property to cause damage.
Judge Mike Fleenor took the four charges under advisement for a year and ordered Shireman-Grabowski to pay $14,030.41 for repairs to the helicopter, finish 50 hours of community service and generally be of good behavior. If Shireman-Grabowski completes the requirements, the felony is to be reduced to a misdemeanor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt wrote in an email.
The case of another protester, Emma Howell of Elliston, who was 22 when she was arrested in February, was continued until Sept. 14 after a hearing in the county’s General District Court on Tuesday. Howell faces three counts of assault and battery of pipeline workers. Her attorney, Ryan Hamrick of Christiansburg, said he had only just received pipeline security workers’ body-cam footage and needed time to go through it.
Other protest cases recently in the region’s courts included that of Danika R. Padilla, 23, of Whitesville, W.Va. Padilla had two charges of fleeing from officers dismissed after witnesses did not show up at a July 13 hearing in Montgomery General District Court.
Two years ago, Padilla, known as “Nutty,” blocked pipeline work by occupying a platform in the trees in the Jefferson National Forest in Giles County. The charges in Montgomery came from the same July 2019 incident in which Finn was arrested.
And in Franklin County General District Court last month, protester Amory Lei Zhou-Kourvo wrapped up a case that began last August when he locked himself to pipeline construction equipment. Prosecutors said the disruption lasted a little over four hours. Zhou-Kourvo, 21, of Ann Arbor, Mich., spent nine days in jail after his arrest. At a June 17 hearing, Zhou-Kourvo was convicted of tampering with a vehicle and fined $100. A trespassing charge was dropped.
A Worchester, Mass., woman, Melissa Dubois, was charged alongside Zhou-Kourvo, also with trespassing and vehicle tampering, but her case has seen multiple continuances and now has a Sept. 9 court date.