Don’t call them private security
October 19, 2021 — As the difference between safety and security in the Jackson Demonstration State Forest is parsed with utmost refinement, one thing remains clear: the logging sites are dangerous. Two activists have complained of significant threats, one of them caught on video. EPIC, the Environmental Protection and Information Center, has sent a letter to Wade Crowfoot, the California Secretary of Natural Resources, asking him to restore peace.
And, although Cal Fire’s chief legal counsel Bruce Crane wrote on July 2nd that “The current JDSF closure order prohibits any private security, armed or unarmed, from entering JDSF,” two unarmed private security firms have been present in two sites. One was hired by a private company, while the other was paid upwards of $110,000 by Cal Fire for just over a month’s work.
Cal Fire, the Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, manages JDSF, where protests against logging have been vigorous. Mendocino Forest Products, the sister company to Mendocino Redwood Company, purchased the contract to log Soda Gulch. They hired Two Brothers Logging to fall trees and Lear Asset Management for safety.
In a press release, Mendocino Redwood Company described the contractors as “licensed and bonded Safety Specialists…(who) are simply filming and alerting trespassers to the active operations.” Lear is a private security company best known for armed raids on trespass grows. John Andersen, the public policy director for MRC, confirmed that the company had hired Lear as a safety contractor, but said Trouette and his staff are not carrying weapons on JDSF.
Kevin Conway, the Cal Fire forest manager in JDSF, said safety managers are permitted on logging sites, but did not lay out the parameters of their duties, other than to specify that they must be unarmed.
The presence of the safety manager, or the Safety Specialist, did not rule out the possibility of a non-accidental death, according to one unidentified logger in Soda Gulch on October 5th. Michael Hunter, the Chairman of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, described the encounter to KZYX and shared the video of the incident.
Hunter said that as he stood near the loggers, “I recorded everything. I said hey. Please don’t kill me by accident today. And the old man says, oh, it won’t be by accident. I got that on recording, too, and I said, well, don’t kill by purpose either, please, ‘cause I don’t feel like dying today.”
Last week, Matt Simmons, a lawyer with EPIC, wrote in his letter to Secretary Crowfoot that on the same day, U’i Wesley, an activist and Native Hawaiian singer and dancer, had a separate encounter. She was parked by a logging gate when two masked men pulled up in a large black truck with no license plates. “They didn’t say who they were, they didn’t say we’re with the police, or we’re with Cal Fire. They just came up to her and said, you need to leave. And when she said that she wouldn’t, they responded by reaching into their pocket and throwing bullet casings at her face and saying, you know, it’s dangerous in here. And I think any reasonable person would feel that that was a death threat.” Reflecting on the fact that both recipients of the threats were people of color, Simmons said, “The really sad truth is that Mendocino, just like all of America, has been a place of violence against people of color for a really long time. And Jackson itself is Northern Pomo and Coast Yuki territory. And there’s a reason it’s not anymore, right? It’s because of violent acquisition by white settlers. And in some ways, it feels like we’re just sort of seeing a continuation of that.”
In a video he posted on Facebook, Hunter had a long verbal encounter with a man later identified as Paul Trouette, the head of Lear Asset Management. Simmons was skeptical about what he called a loophole allowing Trouette, a professional private security provider, to operate as a safety manager or Safety Specialist, in an area where private security is not allowed.
“Now what it looks like is that MRC has hired Trouette and are calling him a safety manager in order to have a loophole in the rules that require them not to hire private security. I did a little bit of googling on Paul Trouette, and I don’t think he’s the guy you hire to be a safety manager.”
Recently obtained documents show that Cal Fire itself hired a private security firm called Armorous to provide unarmed guards and a patrol car around the clock at the Caspar logging site from June 8th through July 5th. Payments for two guards overnight and three during the day came out to almost $111,000. Conway said that their presence did not violate the agency’s chief legal counsel’s opinion that “CAL FIRE cannot cede control of activities on JDSF, for law enforcement and security purposes, to any person or entity at any time as JDSF is required...to always be under the direction and control of CAL FIRE personnel.” Conway pointed out that this statement was part of a letter to the owner of a logging company who wanted to hire private security to protect his logging operations.
In contrast, Armorous was hired by Cal Fire and was acting under control of the agency as what he called a “force extender.” He also emphasized that the guards were not acting in a law enforcement capacity. He said they wore uniforms and did not carry weapons, and that their vehicle was marked. He said at the moment, there are no plans to bring the guards back into JDSF. Usually, he said, the public respects forest closures, and the current situation, where some portion of the public wants to put themselves and workers in harm’s way, is very new territory for the agency. He urged those who object to the logging to use the public process to express themselves.