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'Trojan Duck' pipeline protest brings suspended sentences, order to pay police

Video Courtesy of Appalachians Against Pipelines

Giles County’s case of the “Trojan Duck,” an avian-themed protest against construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, wrapped up this month with misdemeanor convictions and suspended jail sentences — and orders that three protesters perform community service and repay the cost of police officers’ time spent cutting the defendants free from a giant wooden bird.

Speaking after hearings for three defendants — charges against a fourth were resolved earlier — Commonwealth’s Attorney Bobby Lilly called the case “one of the more colorful” ones that his office has handled recently.

Called the Wood Duck by protesters and Trojan Duck by Lilly and others, the 12-foot-by-8-foot bird was made from two plywood cutouts of a huge duck, seen in sideview and realistically painted. The group Appalachians Against Pipelines posted on Facebook that the duck model was meant to symbolize habitat loss and to highlight that the pipeline’s route passed through ecosystems important to birds.

Sandwiched between the wood side pieces was a cage. On June 2, 2021, the duck was placed to block the entrance to a pipeline construction staging area in the county.

Valerie Ann Hahn, now 53, of Richford, New York, was in the duck’s interior enclosure with her arms extended out through holes on either side. Ethan Nathaniel Hughes, now 52, of Belfast, Maine, and Dylan Vittorio Bremner, now 25, of Atlanta, Georgia, sat on either side of the duck holding hands with Hahn. Pipes covered the joined hands in an arrangement called a “sleeping dragon” that makes it difficult for law enforcement officers to separate protesters.

Zachariah Benevento-Zahner, whose age wasn’t immediately available, of Harrisonburg, sat atop the wooden structure “like a cowboy riding on the duck,” Lilly said.

Law enforcement officers eventually used saws to cut the sleeping dragons and remove Hahn, Hughes and Bremner from the duck. Benevento-Zahner came down when officers asked, Lilly said. Appalachians Against Pipelines said the blockade of the construction area lasted seven hours.

On Sept. 9, Bremner, Hughes and Hahn were each convicted of trespassing, a misdemeanor, and given 12-month jail sentences with the entire term suspended. Charges of entering property to cause damage were dropped.

Charges of obstructing justice filed against all three were held until March, to be dismissed then if the protesters avoid further trouble and each carries out 50 hours of community service. Before their March hearings, Hughes, Hahn and Bremner also must pay their court costs, and together, pay a total restitution of $2,566.85 — an amount calculated as the cost of the officers’ time spent removing the sleeping dragons, Lilly said.

The protesters were ordered to stay off all Mountain Valley Pipeline property, Lilly added.

Charges against Benevento-Zahner were dropped earlier this year.

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Related to this story

Police were called about 10:30 a.m. to Brickyard Road in the Maybrook area of Giles County, where they saw a crowd of people blocking the road. They also found a man lying beneath a tractor-trailer, attached to its underside with what’s called a sleeping dragon.

Physically interfering with Mountain Valley Pipeline workers will cost a protester $1,000, a Montgomery County judge ruled Tuesday. Emma Howell, known as "Ash" among pipeline opponents at the tree stands near Yellow Finch Lane, was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of assault and battery. The charges came from separate incidents in which Howell was accused of scuffling with two workers.

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