Cops Hired as Mercenaries by Pipeline Company To 'Deter Protest'
Between June and October 2013, Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, paid a local Pennsylvania police department more than $50,000 to patrol a controversial pipeline upgrade. The company requested that the officers, though officially off-duty, be in uniform and marked cars. Kinder Morgan’s aim, according to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, was to use law enforcement to “deter protests” in order to avoid “costly delays.”
Kinder Morgan sought off-duty police officers to “deter protests” and avoid delay of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline upgrade.
It’s unclear if the police department instructed its officers to explicitly “deter protests” but, if officers carried out Kinder Morgan’s request, their conduct would clearly violate the First Amendment rights of protesters.
“It is politically and socially entirely inappropriate for a private company to be able to hire a police department and use its officers to try to intimidate protesters of one stripe or another,” says David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer in Philadelphia and a Senior Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
In a letter to the Eastern Pike Regional Police Department (EPRPD) dated May 1 2013, Duane Jones, Kinder Morgan’s corporate security manager, acknowledged the “controversial nature” of the pipeline project and requested that the local police “provide a visible presence to create a deterrent effect.” The officers began conducting patrols in June 2013 and were paid $54.80 an hour for their off-duty services. The patrols were terminated in October of that year.
The off duty officers were employed in addition to a 24/7 roving private security patrol.
Two weeks after Kinder Morgan sent the letter (described as a “letter of engagement for police services”), the Eastern Pike Regional Police Commission voted to accept Kinder Morgan’s proposal to contract with the department. In an email from the EPRPD to Off Duty Services, a Texas based private security company that administered the contract, the department said that its attorney would “cc you a copy of the contract.” In response to several public records requests, however, EPRPD has said that no contract exists.
Chief of police Chad Steward declined to comment for this story and referred me to the commission’s solicitor, Thomas Mincer. Mincer also declined to comment.
“If they are actually being instructed to deter protest that’s not okay,” says Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU in Philadelphia, who reviewed Kinder Morgan’s letter. “That’s just flat out unconstitutional.” If law enforcement, or any other government agency, set out to deter protest it would be in violation of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.