Earth First! environmental activist Rebecca Kay Smith has filed a civil suit against several Forest Service and law enforcement officials, hoping to reverse the courtroom roles of her trial last January, at which she and fellow activist Joel Wyatt were found guilty of four misdemeanors from their month-long tree-sit protest of the Bitterroot’s Big Bull timber sale (see “The Bitterroot Tree Party,” by Mike Keefe-Feldman, Jan. 30, 2003).
During the protest, Smith’s food and water supply was allegedly cut down from tree branches via cherry-picker and taken from her directly when Missoula County Deputy Sheriff David Ball punctured containers holding drinking water.
In filing the suit on June 21, Smith and her lawyer, the Ecology Center’s Tom Woodbury, now argue that such actions violated Smith’s constitutional rights to free speech, petition, and due process, among others.
“This was on public land and I had a right to assemble,” Smith says. “I hadn’t been convicted of anything and I wasn’t a prisoner yet. But even if I was, your jailers can’t deny you food and water.”
Smith says she told officers from up in the tree that she would sue them, but that the officers laughed it off. Woodbury says he took the case pro-bono.
Bitterroot Forest Service Captain Dale Brandenberry, one of four individuals named specifically in the suit, says he hasn’t seen the claim yet and probably will not comment even once he has.
“Usually when these kinds of things happen, we’re not allowed to make comments,” Brandenberry says.
The suit seeks $100,000 in compensation and $250,000 in punitive damages, which Smith says is to send a message that “it’s not acceptable to harass people because you don’t agree with them, or you think you can get away with it because they don’t have money and lawyers.”
She also says she would donate any damages awarded to environmental causes.
“I don’t really have any desire to buy a big house,” she says. “My life is dedicated to activism.”