Multnomah DA drops case against Zenith 5

For immediate release:  Thursday, March 12, 2020



Ken Ward, 503.504.3534, [email protected]

Lauren Regan, 541.687.9180, [email protected]

Dylan Plummer, 541.531.1858, [email protected]

Multnomah District Attorney Drops Case Against the’ Zenith Five’ Climate Activists After Mistrial

One week After jury deadlocks 5-1, DA drops charges in a victory for the activists

Portland, OR - Multnomah County Assistant Prosecutor Leslie Wu today informed the court that “the State will be unable to proceed,” in scheduling a retrial of ‘The Zenith Five’, activists charged with criminal trespass for building a vegetable garden on railroad tracks last April, blocking oil trains from entering the Zenith Energy Terminal. The court’s dismissal of charges follows a hung jury in the first trial, when jurors deadlocked 5-1 in favor of the defense, after hearing from all five defendants and three expert witnesses in one of the nation’s first “climate necessity defenses.” 

Lauren Regan, Lead Attorney for the defense, said:


When intelligent, committed, ethical people attempt to use all lawful means to stop an exploitive, harmful industry from exacerbating the climate crisis, but completely fail, over and over, they come to the choice of evils. They can choose to continue working hard on futile, lawful activities, knowing full well that the game is rigged, or they add nonviolent disruption to the mix, and put their bodies between the machines and the communities and ecosystems they love.


Jan Zuckerman, Defendant, said:


This sends a clear message to Zenith Energy that our actions were justified, and provides a clear path forward for our activism. The people of Portland will not let up until Zenith’s crimes against humanity and life on this planet are stopped.


Ken Ward, Valve Turner and Defendant, said: 


This outcome extends a string of court victories, where jurors, judges, and prosecutors, in a variety of ways, are acknowledging the fundamental reality of the climate crisis, and the fact that all ordinary, legal means of addressing the crisis have failed. Activists are demanding the right to tell the truth, using the climate necessity defense — that nonviolent direct action is the only effective means to address this emergency — and this is working, because the courts are the one branch of government where the truth still matters. 



At trial in February, the prosecution and defense agreed on the facts. On April 28th, the five defendants returned to the rail yard outside the Zenith Energy facility in North Portland, where the week before they had been arrested for blocking railroad tracks, and re-planted a garden, with tidy rows of vegetables, flower beds, and trees. 


Defendants testified that their intention was to permanently close the Zenith facility, by rezoning the area to open space. Climate expert Dr. Deke Gundersen, a professor at Pacific University, attorney Nick Caleb of the Center for Sustainable Economy, and Portland State University professor Dr. Tom Hastings supported defendants’ contentions that climate catastrophe is imminent, tar sands oil of the kind being exported by Zenith Energy is a major contributor to the problem, government has been unable to address the problem, the defendants have no legal means by which they might avoid the harm, and direct actions, like the one they undertook, have proven effective.


Members of the jury in the first trial described heated deliberations over seven and a half hours, in which the majority sought to convince a lone hold out. “Almost every juror sat down at the table with their minds made up, and almost everyone of us was set on acquittal,” said one juror. “It was very, very powerful to hear all the things that the defendants have done to work through legal means to get something done on climate, and nothing has worked. One of them has been doing this for 40 years (Ward), and even the youngest (Emily Carl) has done an amazing amount of stuff for someone still in college.”  



Read more about the trial as reported on by Inside Climate News, and Common Dreams. Read an op ed from one of the defendants at the Oregonian.


The defendants and defense attorneys are available for comment and may grant interviews on request. For further information, to request copies of court documents or to arrange interviews, please contact Dylan Plummer, [email protected], 541.531.1858.


The Civil Liberties Defense Center supports movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction.


XR PDX is part of an international group demanding that governments tell the truth about the climate emergency and get to net zero carbon emissions by 2025. For more information about XR and its Portland chapter, please visit the XR PDX website:

The Climate Defense Project supports front-line activists, pursues climate impact litigation, and connects attorneys with communities and campaigns. 



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  • Alice Lockhart
    published this page in Press Releases 2020-03-12 18:33:17 -0700

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