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Protesters To Be Charged With Manslaughter?

by Nicholas Wilson
Headwaters Article Index

Mrs. Allsbrooks saw no impartiality in her meeting with police investigator
SAN FRANCISCO -- The seven activists who were near David "Gypsy" Chain as the Pacific Lumber worker felled the tree killing him will be charged with manslaughter, Humboldt Sheriff's investigator Juan Freeman reportedly told Chain's mother.

Cindy Allsbrooks of Coldspring, Texas returned to California last week seeking facts about her son's September 17 death. She was so disturbed by what she learned in meetings with Freeman, with her son's forest companions, and in a visit to the death scene that she made her first statements to the press at a San Francisco press conference on October 22.

"He stood up for what he thought was right"
Monitor recorded the event and is exclusively making it available via the Internet. CLICK HERE to hear the complete press conference with her and Chain family attorney Steve Schectman. To listen to this recording, you must have a copy of Real Audio installed on your computer. The playing time is about 36 minutes.

Cindy Allsbrooks "David was not a social outcast like a lot of people would like to portray him," she said, adding that he was loved and respected in his community, and hundreds attended his Texas funeral. She refuted accusations that he was ignorant about forestry, saying "The day before he died, my son called a geologist to find out more about the potential hazards of logging on steep slopes. David was knowledgeable about the forest. He didn't just go out there to play some kind of cat-and-mouse game with the loggers." She added, "He stood up for what he thought was right, and I encouraged him to do that."

Below is a condensed version of her statements.

Comments by Cindy Allsbrooks, mother of David Nathan "Gypsy" Chain
I've lost my son in a forest on a hill in the 'Deep North' of California, and now I find myself at the tail end of a storm in California that's been brewing, as best as I can tell, about thirteen years.

But nothing prepared me for the shock of learning that the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department intends to implicate my son for his own death. I have been told ... that they will recommend charging my son's friends, the activists who were with him when he was killed, with manslaughter. Mr. A.E. Ammons, the Pacific Lumber employee that cut the tree that killed my son is not even a suspect.

I'm here to demand an investigation by an impartial government agency, because I have learned that Humboldt County is a company town. Apparently the Humboldt County Sheriff's Dept. has an agenda to exonerate the Pacific Lumber Company.

On Tuesday, I visited the place where David died. When I stood near the spot where the redwood tree struck and killed my son, I was amazed to see how close Mr. Ammons was to my son. So many of my questions were answered. There is no way these kids could have been there and these loggers not have heard them.

The witnesses said to me, '"They knew we were there. The logger had just got done saying, I'm fixing to fell a tree, you better get your hard hat on." But even if I didn't listen to any of that, I went out to the site, and I saw what I saw and I know what the truth is. Those of us who live by the truth can tell when somebody is selling us a bill of goods, and when I went to that Sheriff's Dept. on Monday, I was being sold a bill of goods.

Throughout my whole conversation with Mr. Freeman on Monday I did not hear one impartial statement. It was gung-ho Pacific Lumber, and I'm going after the Earth First!ers.

I said what about the videotape; how do you discount the videotaped anger from the logger. And he said you can't even tell who it is; it's just a logger you hear.

"He said, "These kids were out there messing with this man's livelihood. They were trespassing. Anybody would have done the same thing. Mr. Ammons is a reasonable man, much like myself, and he is a man with a conscience."

I kept waiting for something to come out of his mouth that would have told me he was unbiased. And I heard nothing. I heard red flag after red flag when I met with this man on Monday.

The last thing Detective Freeman told me was that he was going to recommend to the District Attorney's office that the Earth First! activists be prosecuted for manslaughter.

Monday night I met with these witnesses who were there when my son died. I just want you to know that these young people are good, honest, sincere people. I heard so many things ... that made me realize over and over again that these young people are being disregarded.

Pacific Lumber, its safety policies, and its employees should be investigated. I can't understand how they could be immediately ruled out as suspects for investigation, but they were.

Not one word came up in my meeting with Mr. Freeman that indicated that he had any suspicions whatsoever that anything went wrong that day that my son was killed. Especially after listening to the (videotaped) threats that were enraged, deeply menacing, and filled with malice. I think of that and then I remember what I heard from the eyewitnesses whom I felt spoke truthfully, and it was two totally different stories.

The eyewitnesses told me that they were in almost constant contact with Mr. Ammons, from their first encounter with him to the time my son was killed. They told me that just ten minutes before that tree that killed Nathan was cut that they heard Mr. Ammons acknowledge that he was aware that they were in the woods and near him. And that was when he said, "This one's coming your way; you'd better get your hardhat on." Within ten minutes, my son lay dead on the ground.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Dept. has heard the same things I've heard. How can they tell me that my son and his companions of that day are criminals and liable for his death. I want someone to explain to me how PL can have a policy that would allow their employees to keep on cutting trees when people are present and clearly endangered.

I want to know the truth and I want all of America to notice what's happening over there. It could be happening anywhere. As a parent I appeal to (PL President) John Campbell and (Maxxam CEO) Charles Hurwitz to let me discover the truth. The scene of the crime should not be logged until an investigation by an impartial government agency can be completed.

Sheriff is relying on Pacific Lumber drug test results
Allsbrooks' attorney Steve Schectman spoke, again calling for an independent and impartial investigation by a government agency. "You wonder how this could be happening that people who were out there nonviolently exercising their rights under the Constitution could somehow be charged with manslaughter. It's hard not to draw some analogies to what happened in the South during the civil rights struggle.

"PL has not taken any action to discipline its employees. We can only conclude the PL is ratifying or agreeing that the conduct of their employees was proper. There were eight people arrested in the woods the day before. PL knew there were going to be protesters out in the woods that day. A reasonable employer would have told the employees that company policy would be not to cut but to look for a supervisor to deal with protesters."

Responding to questions, Allsbrooks said Freeman offered no rationale for charging the activists: "What I saw throughout my conversation is that Humboldt County Sheriffs are sick of Earth First!ers. They're sick of dealing with protesters. They're sick of being called out to deal with this or that. There was no sympathy for EF!ers whatsoever; no sympathy for my son's cause whatsoever. There was no rationale there to me. I was appalled when I heard that he was planning on charging the EF! kids."

As to why Freeman thought the logger should not be subject to any charges, Allsbrooks said, "I asked him what about the videotape ... he couldn't answer that question. All he could say was that 'Any of those loggers would have reacted the same way,' that 'A.E. Ammons is a reasonable man, much like myself,' to quote Mr. Freeman verbatim."

Schectman pointed out that Allsbrooks asked Freeman why we don't know whether Ammons was tested for drugs since the coroner's office released autopsy drug test results on her son. Freeman told Allsbrooks Ammons was tested and the results were negative. "What's interesting is how he came to this conclusion," Schectman said. "His department did not test A. E. Ammons. It was a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. PL alone tested A. E. Ammons and has the results, and this sheriff is relying on that result. He said if Mr. Ammons was not fired he must not have done drugs, because PL has a policy of zero tolerance for drug use." Allsbrooks verified that the foregoing is verbatim what Freeman told her. It is also what he told the Monitor in an interview October 7. Schectman said PL should be asked if it had a similar zero tolerance policy for reckless violence in the woods by their employees.

Police relied upon PL supervisors to interpret what happened
Tree that killed David Chain Schectman used photos of the death scene to show how the logger allegedly cut trees out of the rational order in a way that endangered his own life, felling the fatal tree prior to felling an adjacent tree that was downhill from it. He explained that normal safety practice was never to fell a tree with an already felled tree uphill from you because that might jar the uphill tree loose and cause it to roll down onto the logger. Schectman took this as evidence the logger was enraged and deliberately felled the fatal tree toward the group of protesters.

Asked where the "domino" theory came from, Schectman said PL had supervisory employees at the scene of David Chain's death about 10 minutes before any police officers or anyone else arrived. They were accepted as the experts on how to "read" the woods and interpret what happened. Schectman said "They allowed statements to be made that were entirely false, entirely misleading. They're the ones who wanted to perpetuate the myth that it was an accident. One of the component parts of it was that it must have been an accident because one tree hit another tree, and that tree 'dominoed' and killed David Chain. Not true. Anyone out there could see it was not a ricochet."

Asked if the Chain family was filing a wrongful death suit, Schectman replied, "We're still going to investigate the facts, and see where the facts lead us."

Asked what he wanted officials to investigate, Schectman said, "We want them to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of David Chain." He said the investigation should look at whether the logger deviated from standard safety practices and jeopardized his own life to cut the fatal tree out of order. "We would argue that that deviation was the result of rage, rage fueled by a corporate environment that allowed such a condition to exist." He said he wanted a full interview of the witnesses, an examination of the videotape, and results of the drug testing of Ammons. "Ask the supervisors of PL what steps did you take to make sure your employees knew how to deal with protesters in the woods. This is not an isolated event. This is not a first event," Schectman said.

"Number one, trespassing is not punishable by death"
Schectman explained what he wanted done. "The first step is that the Humboldt officials, the sheriff's office and the D.A. should immediately announce they have no intention of following through with this absurd threat to charge these non-violent protesters, activists, with manslaughter. Secondly, they should concede that they're unable to do a fair and unbiased investigation, and refer the matter on their own to either the U. S. Attorney General's office or the California Attorney General's office. Then those agencies should step in and not only investigate the crime scene, but also investigate why the Humboldt authorities were unable to do their job."

When the question was raised whether, because they were trespassing on private property, the EF! activists were at fault in any way in Chain's death, Mrs. Allsbrooks replied, "Number one, trespassing is not punishable by death. If PL had denied me access to that site where my son died, I would have trespassed, because I was going there." She called trespassing minor compared to the concerns the activists had. "Their goal is to stop illegal logging. Their goal is the protection of the environment, and they perceive that as a much bigger deal than trespassing. I'm here to tell you I'd have put my hiking boots on and hiked up the mountain if I'd had to to get to get to where my son died."

Allsbrooks alleged she was misled by Freeman into believing that the autopsy report was being kept from her by Coroner Frank Jager, but when she later spoke with Jager he told her it was Freeman who asked him not to release the report. "There was just red flag after red flag going up.... What's going on here? You're either a pretty stupid, ignorant person, or you're perceptive enough to know when somebody's playing some kind of game with you, and that's how I have felt, dealing with the Humboldt County officials. And I don't appreciate it," she said.

Allsbrooks concluded the press conference by saying, "I've got two daughters who loved their brother immensely; there is a father back in Texas who loves his son more than I can tell you; a stepfather who loves his stepson; and I'll never have grandkids from that young man, who I dreamed about what it would be like having grandkids from my little boy; how special that would be...."

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Albion Monitor October 28, 1998 (

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