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In-Depth Interview: “Valve Turner” Emily Johnston’s Mixed Emotions on Acquittal for Pipeline Shutdown

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Two years ago, Emily Johnston was one of the activists who shut down tar sands pipelines in coordinated action.  This week, she was acquitted.  In this podcast, she explains her relief and disappointment.

Johnston is a poet from Seattle who joined forces with other activists to shut down 5 pipelines carrying tar sands crude from Canada to the US on October 11, 2016.  Johnston and Annette Klapstein have been on trial in state court in Bagley Minnesota. We connected with Johnston as she was driving back to Seattle from Minnesota.

She recounts that last week, Judge Robert Tiffany surprised the defendants by excluding all of the expert witnesses who would’ve been called to support the “necessity defense” that, due to the climate emergency, they had no choice but to take direct action.  The same judge has handled the case during pretrial actions and appeals that permitted the necessity defense presentation.

The defense lawyers filed a routine motion to dismiss the charges for lack of proof of any damage caused by the valve turners. In another surprise, Judge Tiffany ruled in their favor, and tossed all charges.

Johnston explains that she is relieved she won’t be going to prison, but disappointed that they were unable to present the necessity defense.  They had hoped to set judicial precedent that would enable others to take similar action with limited consequences.  She makes an important point about her own white privilege, noting that people of color would fave more severe consequences for a similar action.

You can get more info on all of the valve turners here.