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Bond denied in second Montgomery County tree-sitting case

Bond denied in second Montgomery County tree-sitting case

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The second of two tree-sitters removed last month from a long-standing barricade of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was denied bail Monday.

The outcome of the Montgomery County General District Court hearing was the same as in the first tree-sitter’s hearing two weeks ago — the protesters can stay in jail as they await resolution of their charges, judges said.

Arguments also were much the same in the two bond hearings, attorneys said afterward. Defense attorneys said that their clients, if allowed out on bond, would stay off the pipeline’s property and appear for future court dates. Prosecutors pointed to the defendants’ prior convictions in other states and said the nature of the Montgomery County allegations — that the tree-sitters disobeyed a Circuit Court judge’s order last fall to come out of the trees — suggested that they would not comply with whatever conditions the court set for their release.

Monday’s hearing, overseen by Judge Randal Duncan, was for Alexander Samuel Parker Lowe, 24, of Worcester, Massachusetts. Lowe is known as “Acre” in online statements about the protests along a section of pipeline right-of-way near Yellow Finch Lane in eastern Montgomery County.

For 2 1/2 years, opponents of the natural gas pipeline occupied tree-top platforms that prevented timber-clearing for construction of this section of Mountain Valley’s West Virginia-to-Pittsylvania County route. Last fall, Circuit Court Judge Robert Turk ordered the tree-sitters to leave. Last month, police officers and sheriff’s deputies used a large crane to pluck the occupants of two tree stands from their perches.

Lowe, who streamed parts of the removal operation on his Facebook page, was charged with interfering with someone else’s property rights and with resisting arrest without using force. Both are misdemeanors.

The other protester removed from the trees, Claire Marian Fiocco, 23, of Dorset, Vermont, known as “Robin” or “Wren” in online statements, faces a charge of interfering with someone else’s property rights. Last month, Judge Gerald Mabe declined to set a bond for Fiocco.

After Monday’s hearing, Lowe’s attorney, Brandon Ratliff of Radford, said he thought that Lowe’s chances for bond were hurt by what looked in court like a lack of the type of community ties that would indicate someone would return for future hearings. Lowe said he had not had employment since 2018 and said that while he stayed with several people during his time in the New River Valley, he could not name them or give addresses, Ratliff said.

Contacted after the hearing, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt declined to go into the details of Lowe’s case.

Ratliff noted that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Erin Little said Monday that Lowe had two prior convictions in New Hampshire. Ratliff said that he did not know the details of those offenses.

A court report from Cumberland County, Maine, said Lowe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge there in 2019. A prosecutor wrote in an email that Lowe was charged with criminal mischief after spraying graffiti on a building in downtown Portland, Maine.

A relative said that Lowe’s avid interest in environmental and social justice issues led him from New England, where he was a student at the University of Southern Maine, to the tree sits near Elliston.

“He just has a cause, and he believes in it,” his stepmother, Mary Jane Lowe of New Hampshire, said last week. “It took a lot of guts to stay out there in that tree, with all the bad weather and the loneliness.”

Although she said the entire family is proud of Lowe, his stepmother has mixed feelings about the degree of his activism. “We respect the law,” she said, recalling how the family worried about what might happen during the lengthy standoff with police.

“At his age, we can’t tell him what to do.”

As for the environmental debate, “‘I can see both sides of it. We all need gas,” Mary Jane Lowe said. “But we can’t be cavalier about our natural resources, because if we are, we are leaving our children to do this work.”

Lowe didn’t go into much detail with his family members about what he was doing in Virginia, she said, but it was clear to them that he believed sincerely that he could make a difference, and that it was time to act.

“The open road was calling,” she said. “He wanted adventure.”

Lowe and Fiocco are being held in the Western Virginia Regional Jail. Fiocco has a hearing scheduled for May 5 and Lowe for May 12, both in Montgomery County General District Court, to decide their charges.

mike.gangloff@roanoke.com 540-381-1669

laurence.hammack@roanoke.com 540-981-3239

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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