Activist Timothy DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison

Police arrest 26 protesters as emotions run high

Published: Tuesday, July 26 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

Vincent Awolski, Chelsea Satre, and Julianne Waters sit across the TRAX line on 400 South and Main Street following the sentencing of Tim DeChristopher on Tuesday, July 26, 2011.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite being heralded by his defense team as a poster child for civil disobedience in the same vein of historical figures like Gandhi or Rosa Parks, a judge on Tuesday rejected any such comparison for Tim DeChristopher and said the rule of law must prevail.

"I am at a loss to see how we are going to govern ourselves if it is (going to be) by personal point of view," Judge Dee Benson said in delivering DeChristopher's sentence of two years in prison.

"This is not a case of Rosa Parks," Benson said, adding that it is a "myth" that DeChristopher acted because he had no other choice when he deliberately derailed a federal oil and gas lease auction in 2008.

Such justification for action "can't be the order of the day," Benson said. "Otherwise we don't have a society, we have an anarchy."

DeChristopher, who faced a potential sentence of 10 years in prison, was also fined $10,000 and given three years of supervised probation. His defense team said it will appeal, calling any prison time for DeChristopher unjust because it's not a deterrent in a case like this.

"There are people who belong in prison but Tim DeChristopher is not one of them," said attorney Ron Yengich, adding that such a sentence tells followers that the country operates within a "system of justice that is deaf to common sense."

The courtroom was packed with DeChristopher supporters who burst into loud and derisive chants at the conclusion of the nearly two hour sentencing. One angry fan was forcibly removed from the courtroom and another used an expletive directed at the judge.

His followers parked themselves on the steps of the federal courthouse afterward, vowing they'd join their heroes behind bars.

A red-faced Ashley Anderson, director of Peaceful Uprising — the group co-founded by DeChristopher — addressed the crowd, asserting "every federal courthouse in the country is the scene of a crime today."

Initially, police were just as steadfast in their efforts to let the protestors protest, stepping over people with their wrists hooked together with plastic zip ties chanting, "Justice is not found here!" That changed when the protest morphed over to 400 South, where some sat on Utah Transit Authority TRAX lines on Main Street, disrupting the height of the afternoon commute.

Salt Lake police officers eventually arrested 26 people. Nineteen were booked into the Salt Lake County Jail and seven opted to receive citations. They had been given the option to leave, accept a citation or be arrested, said Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank.

"They wanted to show they were as close to the line as DeChristopher," Deb Henry of Peace Uprising said of those arrested.

All were arrested without incident, Burbank said, and were booked for investigation of charges such as failure to disperse, unlawful assembly and blocking a roadway. Salt Lake police later reported seven protestors opted for citations, and 19 chose to be booked into jail. 

DeChristopher, 30, warned of such a reaction in the minutes before receiving his sentence from Benson and urged the judge to order community service working with disadvantaged neighborhoods or even pulling weeds for the victim — in this case, the U.S. government's Bureau of Land Management.

"People fighting for a liveable future will not be discouraged or deterred by anything that happens in this courtroom today," DeChristopher said. "You have authority over my life, but not my principles. They are my own."

Benson ordered the prison time despite the urging of the Salt Lake man's defense team, which argued the activist's "foray into crime was very brief, particularly when considered in the context of his exemplary life. His crimes were not committed to harm anyone."

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