Team trained for protests

Complete with megaphones, signs, and chants, local protests and rallies are not exactly uncommon.

Health care, employment, religion, and politics-all of these and more have incited acts of civil disobedience through the years.

But it was a February anti-fracking protest that shut down a New Matamoras brine storage facility along Ohio 7 for nearly a day that prompted the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to seek more training for handling protest situations.

This summer the sheriff’s office formed and trained a “cut team.” Consisting of around a dozen members, the team is trained to remove protesters from potentially dangerous situations that they self-impose to gain attention for their cause, said Capt. Troy Hawkins of the sheriff’s office.

“There these protesters deployed different techniques of protesting so it’s not as easy to go in and get the protesters out. They require special mechanisms to get them out safely,” said Hawkins.

At the February anti-fracking protest at GreenHunter Water, it took responding law enforcement agencies several hours to get Athens County resident Nate Ebert off a 30-foot-tall monopod which he had tethered to various objects at the facility.

With the new training, provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency by an agent with the U.S. Division of Forestry, cut team members will be able to deal with similar situations as well as a variety of other protesting techniques, said WCSO Sgt. Kevin Hornbeck.

“Protesters around the country use a whole variety of devices,” he said.

Handcuffing themselves to a nearby structure is one thing. But protesters have gotten more creative, locking their hands inside PVC pipe using concrete, chicken wire and even feces to ensure they are not removed from a protest, he said.

“What our training does, it teaches us how to take the way the devices are constructed and how to deconstruct and remove it without hurting someone,” said Hornbeck.

Members of the cut team underwent three eight hour days of training. The department has also purchased a variety of tools used to address such situations, said Hawkins.

While he declined to elaborate on the equipment used to disarm protest methods, they are typically items which can be purchased at a retail store, he said.

Besides the monopod, the protest at GreenHunter Water was devoid of these advanced protest measures. However, officers noticed the protesters there had the materials to craft such devices, said Hawkins.

Additionally, the department is confident such protest methods could be seen locally in the future.

“With the rise in the oil fracking locally we expect to see a rise in dissidence,” said Hawkins.