•No evidence that Flores intentionally drove her truck into crowds of anti-fracking protesters, but hearing violated her Fourth Amendment rights “beyond reasonable doubt”
•Perjury on BLM report but no violation of her Fifth Amendment rights
•“The District Court made no findings of guilt or innocence.”
A Maryland judge said California a federal lands bureau official who intentionally drove her truck into anti-fracking demonstrators had her constitutional rights violated during her initial hearing on the protests.
“I cannot say I’m troubled by the court’s conclusion and do not find these [willful] injuries to be significant,” said Gunston Judge Jeffrey Nelson of the U.S. District Court in Bowie.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of Pittsburgh in September found Heidi Hernandez, regional district director for the Bureau of Land Management, guilty of perjury, affixing the words “when in reality I had not committed that act” to a draft report on the protests. Hernandez is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 6 and could face up to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine.
During Friday’s court hearing, Hernandez claimed her Constitutional rights were violated because the first hearing was closed. Nelson rejected Hernandez’s claim, and said neither the Bureau of Land Management, which let the hearing proceedings remain closed, nor the Department of Justice was responsible for Hernandez’s rights being violated.
“It was not the government’s fault she was not entitled to be afforded a full and fair hearing in a public setting,” he said. “I am unable to place much weight on her claim that she was not entitled to her due process rights under the Fifth Amendment or is not entitled to a free and fair preliminary injunction hearing.”
Prosecutors are recommending a five-month sentence for Hernandez, but say her criminal activity was an exceptional circumstance that makes a longer sentence appropriate.
She was suspended without pay in September after a member of the bureau’s regional board, Victor T. Correa, accused her of perjury, lying to federal agents and committing perjury during a June 5 trial, according to the bureau.
Hernandez had previously been ordered to testify at White’s hearing on whether he should dismiss the official’s indictment.
She drove her truck over anti-fracking protesters in March during a BLM protest near Point Arena, Calif. At the time, she claimed she accidentally drove over the protesters, but said she was driving in fear of her family’s safety during the second week of a protest that drew 1,600 anti-fracking activists.
Colleen Parker, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management, said the agency is continuing to investigate whether Hernandez committed a crime.
“The individual that was involved in the incident that occurred at Point Arena in March of 2016 where she drove into an anti-fracking demonstration with protesters was terminated on September 21, after we received confirmation that she had been found guilty in the West Virginia court,” Parker said.
The BLM allows oil and gas exploration on more than 20 million acres of federal land in California and around the world. Critics say the oil and gas drilling threaten water supplies and ecosystems.