CINCINNATI – Eight Greenpeace activists who staged an eye-catching protest at Procter & Gamble Co. headquarters pleaded guilty Friday to trespassing in an agreement offered at the consumer products maker’s request.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler ordered them each to complete 80 hours of community service on the misdemeanour charge. They are on probation for up to a year and will avoid jail time by completing the service and paying court costs.
P&G has said it’s working with Greenpeace to eliminate deforestation in its palm oil supply chain, the subject of the March 4 protest.
The plea agreement allowed the activists to avoid trial on felony counts of burglary and vandalism that carried potential sentences of nine years in prison. Mark Piepmeier, lead prosecutor on the case, said authorities were told Greenpeace and P&G have been working together “more collaboratively,” and prosecutors honoured the company’s request to offer the plea deal.
“We appreciated the Prosecutor’s decision to reconsider the charges in this case, and we now consider this specific matter closed,” Paul Fox, spokesman for the maker of such global brands as Pampers diapers, Gillette shavers and Tide detergent, said in a statement Friday. “What is not closed is our commitment to continue to work with Greenpeace to eliminate deforestation in the palm supply chain.”
Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said the organization was pleased to see the activists walk free and supported them.
The activists, all from out of state, unfurled large, colorful banners from P&G’s two towers after slipping past company security. They used zip lines and one wore a tiger suit as the protest was filmed for Greenpeace from a helicopter. They all spent the night in jail.
Greenpeace had said the activists were peacefully exercising their right to free speech and were being targeted unfairly with charges that were unreasonably tough. Prosecutors had responded that regardless of their political message, they committed crimes, caused damage and forced police, fire and other emergency workers to respond.
Greenpeace said the activists will work with their attorneys to perform service in the Cincinnati area for organizations such as food banks and those who help people with AIDS.
One activist, 35-year-old Charles Long of Chicago, had earlier pleaded guilty to felony breaking and entering but was allowed to change his plea Friday to trespassing.
The other defendants: Jesse Coleman, 28, of Washington, D.C.; Michael Herbert, 31, of Chicago; Marcella Largess, 29, of Baltimore; Sean O’Brien, 32, of Oakland, California; Denise Rodriguez, 21, of Corona, New York; Tyler Leanne Sanville, 28, of Gainesville, Florida; Nima Shahidi, 29, of Baltimore.
Palm oil is commonly used in shampoo, cosmetics and other products. P&G announced April 8 that it had adopted a no-deforestation policy for its palm oil supply and would establish traceability of supplies by 2015. Greenpeace called P&G’s announcement a huge step in protecting rainforests while saying much work still needed to be done.
Local authorities were stunned by the breach at P&G headquarters, and Cincinnati’s police chief urged downtown businesses to review their security plans.
A ninth activist who was arrested for the protest died Oct. 6 in California. The cause of death for Tyler David Wilkerson, 27, wasn’t made public.
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