A TIMES-STANDARD EDITORIAL
"Sheriff can't keep anybody guessing"
If you didn't see this one coming, you haven' been paying attention.
After a tree fell and killed Earth First protester David Chain on
Pacific Lumber Co. land, the word "lawsuit" was thrown around almost
immediately. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Department was sent to
investigate, and both Pacific Lumber and Chain's family brought in their
own investigators. Pacific Lumber always does internal investigations in
industrial accidents, but Earth First's move was a clear signal that the
organization didn't trust the Sheriff's Department.
And why should it? Unwanted haircuts, pepper spray and unsightly
incidents make Earth First wary of the Sheriff's Department. Also, the
Sheriff's Department has no interest whatsoever in timber harvest plans,
buffer zones and the like - timber-cutting rules that Earth First
members were protesting. Those laws are meant to be enforced by the
state Department of Forestry. Trespassing, though, is a law the
Sheriff's Department is concerned with, and there's no doubt the Earth
First was trespassing the day of the accident. Earth First has a reason
to be worried - its members were breaking the law, and that will be the
easiest thing for the sheriff's investigators to prove.
So now the Sheriff's Department is in a tough place. With Earth First,
Pacific Lumber and the public waiting anxiously, sheriff's investigators
have to gather all the information they can and file a report to the
district attorney. The process could take weeks.
In the meantime, every action is scrutinized. charges and countercharges
flew when the throng of investigators tried to visit the accident site
last Friday. The group never made it. Pacific Lumber initially blamed
Earth First protesters, who have blockaded the road leading to the site.
The attorney for Chain's family, Steve Schectman, blamed PL officials,
saying they didn't want to walk up a steep slope to the accident site
and that they stalled until there was too little daylight left.
Meantime, Schectman was also upset that the logger who cut the tree
that led to Chain's death was also invited to the investigation.
All this bickering is probably more than almost anybody wants to know
about the investigation. Nobody should care whether the group drove in,
walked in, or was dropped in on a flying elephant. People just want to
know what the investigators found once they got there.
All this dialogue and cross-checking, though , is a good sign. The more
that is made public, the less we'll have to hear later about coverups.
There's only one way to put a halt to the talk - bend over backward to
make sure it's not a whitewash. report all findings and answer all
questions from the media. the more the public knows, the less
speculation there will be.
The Sheriff's department, to its credit, has been forthright. Schectman
and PL's investigators aren't talking. Schectman would like to, but he
says he cut a deal with PL in which he could investigate on the
company's property only if he kept the information confidential.
The sheriff and the district attorney had better be prepared to tel all
- and then, unfortunately, let the lawsuits roll in.
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