Visiting students detained in Louisiana, USA, while photographing ExxonMobil chemical plant

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Monday, April 11, 2005 A group of 13 students from Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire, USA, were detained by security officers as they photographed an ExxonMobil chemical plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The students were accompanied by two professors and an officer from the Louisiana Attorney General's office. The officer, Willie Fontenot, was subsequently asked to resign from his position at the Attorney General's office.

Mr. Fontenot has issued a response, provided to Wikinews reporter Pingswept by Steve Case, a professor present at the incident. Fontenot writes,

"Last week, I was asked by Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr. to either retire or run the risk of being fired. No specifics were given to me explaining this decision by the AG. I have always understood that, as an unclassified civil servant, I served at the pleasure of the AG and that I could be dismissed at any time and for no reason. Because of my age, health issues, and investment of twenty-seven years in the state system, I decided early retirement was the best option for me."

The full text of Fontenot's statement is reproduced here.

According to a press release from Antioch, the group was initially detained by two off-duty police officers who were under the employ of ExxonMobil but dressed in their police uniforms. The officers were shortly joined by two other security officers who were employed by ExxonMobil. When asked what reports the officers intended to file, "the off-duty sheriff's department officer refused to answer, and instead responded aggressively that he was going to call in 'homeland security' people who would detain the group into the night," said the press release. In the end, the group was detained for "more than an hour."

One of the professors, Abigail Abrash Walton told the Keene Sentinel that one of the officers, "aggressively told us that he’d be calling in the Homeland Security people, whatever that meant, and to expect to be with them all night."

The Keene Sentinel reports that the students were visiting the area because, "Exxon was said to be buying up houses and paying to relocate their owners for various reasons, including that people were allegedly getting sick because of pollution." The other course instructor, Steve Chase, was quoted in the Sentinel as saying that, "Our objection was not that police officers or even corporate security guards would stop and ask us what we were doing. That seemed totally fair. But lies were told, threats were made and the idea was to intimidate."

The Sentinel noted that an ExxonMobil spokesperson, Stephanie Cargile, stated that, “We believe our ExxonMobil Security personnel and the off-duty East Baton Rouge Sheriff police officers acted professionally and cordially to Mr. Fontenot and the Antioch students.” The venue in which the statement was made was not mentioned by the Sentinel; thus far, the report has not been corroborated by Wikinews.

Sources

Wikinews
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