Coal Tattoo

Federal probe sought following mining protest

Here’s the latest, reported by Vicki Smith over at The Associated Press:

Environmental activists demanded a federal investigation Thursday into the alleged beating of a mountaintop removal mining protester by West Virginia State Police.

Several groups issued a statement asking the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate a weekend incident involving mountaintop removal mining protester Dustin Steele. They’d initially targeted the West Virginia attorney general, but that office has no criminal investigation or prosecutorial power. It primarily handles consumer protection and fraud cases.


Federal prosecutors didn’t immediately comment.


Steele, 21, is a Matewan native who now lives in Blair. He and 19 other protesters were arrested Saturday after a demonstration at Patriot Coal’s Hobet mine in Lincoln County.

Steele told The Associated Press he was dragged across asphalt outside the Madison State Police detachment, then punched and kicked by several troopers.

Sgt. Michael Baylous said State Police officials have received no complaint from Steele, so they’re not doing an internal investigation. He did not immediately comment further.

UPDATED: Vicki has added this to her story —

Melvin Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the FBI investigates claims of civil rights violations by public officials, but he was unaware of whether it’s received any complaints.

If the FBI were to determine charges were warranted, they would be pursued in federal court.

And here’s some interesting video of what happened both during and after Saturday’s protest:


UPDATED AUG. 8, 2012:

 The Logan Banner has a new story out that provides a different story about how some of the coal supporters and the State Police acted at some points during all of this —

The Friends of Coal, Family and Friends of Coal, Citizens for Coal and several other groups say the claims made by RAMPS are false.

“We want to speak the truth,” said Billie Erlewine Epperhart. “What they are showing is footage of some of the miners at their worst. They are not showing us handing out water… they’re not showing the state troopers handing out water to them. They’re saying the state troopers put them in perilous danger, but they had coolers on the front of their trooper cars going around handing out water to them… handing out food.

“Our mission that day was to engage them in conversation and say ‘why are you here?’ and to educate them. They are willing to give up their freedom for something they really and truly don’t know anything about. I am willing to sit down with them and educate them about the mining process, the permitting process and the reclamation process.”

The remaining 10 anti-mountaintop removal activists who were arrested during a demonstration last month were released from jail Tuesday.

Dustin Steele, 21, a Matewan native who now lives in Blair, was released early last week after supporters raised enough money to pay his bail. Steele and his supporters are demanding a federal investigation into alleged abuse that Steele says he suffered outside the State Police detachment in Madison.

Nine more protesters were released Friday after each was sentenced to one year of probation and a $500 fine. The remaining 10 were released Tuesday with the same sentence.