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Federal, State Agencies Pass Buck On Investigation

by Nicholas Wilson
Headwaters Article Index

Despite more than a month of pleas for investigation by various state and federal agencies from the Chain family, Earth First! and other groups and individuals, each agency has excusing itself from jurisdiction, leading to stronger calls for independent investigations by the attorneys representing Earth First! and the family of David Chain.

Schectman letter At the October 22 press conference with Cindy Allsbrooks, mother of the slain forest activist, Schectman gave to reporters copies of his Oct. 21 letter to Humboldt D.A. Terry Farmer, Senior Asst. U.S. Attorney General Ronald Bass, and chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's office George C. Hardy.

The letter requested an independent investigation and set forth the basis for allegations of bias by the Humboldt Sheriff's Department. "Unfortunately, due to the Sheriff's Department's longstanding and antagonistic relationship with Earth First, along with the undue influence exerted by Pacific Lumber, the investigation appears to be designed to protect Pacific Lumber and the logger, and to cast suspicion and blame in the direction of Earth First and, tragically, in the direction of the victim, David Chain."

Schectman told the Monitor that as of Oct. 27 he had received no response.

Long list of charges could be made against logger
Moller letter EF! attorney Jay Moller also sent Farmer another letter Oct. 20 demanding that Freeman be taken off the Chain case due to "shameless bias" revealed in statements he made in a Monitor interview [link]. Moller added, "Detective Freeman, as I suspected from our first interviews with the victim/witnesses, is deeply prejudiced against them, and David Chain, and is continuing to act "more like a defense attorney for [Mr. Ammons] than an objective investigator." Besides citing examples of Freeman's alleged bias, Moller's letter also rebuts and contradicts many of the assertions Freeman made in the Monitor interview.

In a separate letter to Farmer sent this week, Moller commented on the revelation that Freeman intended to recommend prosecuting the activists who were with Chain:

"(A)ny prosecution against the other victims in this case would not only be amoral, but a waste of money, as it is inconceivable that any twelve persons would convict the other victims because Mr. Ammons, in a rage and without the usual timber warning, killed their friend.

"If you want to get 'technical,' Mr. Ammons should be charged not only with second-degree (implied malice) murder (Pen. Code § 187(a)) for the death of David Chain, but five counts of attempted murder (Pen. Code § 664/187(a)); assault with a deadly weapon (Pen. Code § 245(a)(1) and making terrorist threats (Pen. Code § 422) towards the other victims. Instead, we still believe that the only substantial chance of conviction is for his gross negligence, that is for involuntary manslaughter (Pen. Code § 192(b)."

State and Federal Agencies Dodge Involvement
California and federal agencies both have passed the buck on an investigation into Chain's death.

The California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH, better known as Cal-OSHA) began looking into the Chain case two weeks ago, reportedly following a request by an influential state senate committee chairperson. However, callers last week were being told that the agency had no jurisdiction because Chain was not an employee of PL. Callers were referred to the Humboldt Sheriff's Department.

The federal Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, in Washington reportedly assigned deputy Tom Perez to see if circumstances warrant a full federal investigation. Perez has not returned phone calls, and his office referred callers to the Public Affairs office, which also did not return calls. However sources said the division's participation would be triggered only when there was interference with a federally recognized protected minority group's federally protected activities. Alleged police interference with Constitutionally guaranteed rights apparently is not the business of the Civil Rights Division.

State Attorney General Dan Lungren's office responded to requests that it conduct an independent investigation into Chain's death with a letter indicating it had no desire to get involved. In an Oct. 9 letter addressed to the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) of Garberville, Lungren's office wrote:

"The law provides that the district attorney is the public prosecutor. This means that unless exceptional circumstances exist, cases are investigated by local authorities and reviewed and prosecuted by the district attorney of the county in which they occur. While the Attorney General does have supervisory power over district attorneys, we only become involved in local matters when there appears to be clear conflict of interest or an abuse of discretion on the part of the district attorney's office. The concerns you have presented do not present such a situation."

"The claim that the Sheriff's Department has refused to investigate past incidents of violence should be directed to the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office."

No More Trees Felled at Site
Attorney Schectman and expert investigators were back at the death scene for a final inspection Friday Oct. 23. Pacific Lumber had agreed earlier that week to hold off logging at the site through the end of the day Friday. An Earth First! barricade had kept loggers from entering the site for 19 days after Chain's death. After deputies removed the barricade October 7 and breached a human chain across the road the next day, loggers resumed hauling out the already felled trees on the steep slope above the Van Duzen River. Most of those logs had been removed by Friday.

As of Oct. 28, Jeff Davis of North Coast Earth First! said there has been no resumption of tree felling, but he said activists vowed to continue to protect the site, with four tree-sitters in place surrounding the spot where Chain was killed. Davis confirmed reports that PL has removed its heavy logging equipment and dug water bars across the logging road leading to the site, which may indicate the company will not do any further cutting on the site this year.

Meanwhile, EF! has moved its action camp five miles west to Swimmer's Delight County Park, about twelve miles east of Hwy. 101 on state Hwy. 36. Rangers there have set limits of 30 people and 10 vehicles in the camp.

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Albion Monitor October 30, 1998 (

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