US Army veterans found guilty of interfering in Shannon airport operations

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Two US Army veterans in their 80s have been found guilty of obstructing the operation of Shannon Airport as part of an anti-war protest three years ago.

The Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury acquitted Ken Mayers (85) and Tarak Kauff (80) of criminal damage to an airport perimeter fence and trespassing at the airport with intent to commit a violation or interference with property.

The verdicts fell on Tuesday afternoon after just over five and a half hours of deliberations.

The jury returned a majority verdict of guilty on the charge of obstructing the operation, security or management of an airport by entering the runway area and causing the airport to close . The majority verdict was 10 to two, the court heard.

After the verdicts were announced, the defense attorney requested that the men be allowed to return to the United States and return in a fortnight to be sentenced. This was disputed by the prosecution.

Judge Patricia Ryan noted that the men were convicted of a serious charge. “They lost the presumption of innocence,” she said.

She ordered that they surrender their passports and she set a sentencing date for Wednesday.

The five-day trial heard that around 10 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day 2019, the two men punched a hole in the airport’s perimeter fence with a pair of bolt cutters – causing damage to the airport. worth €590 – before walking on the airport grounds.

They were met on a taxiway by an airport officer after staff were alerted to a security breach. When asked what they were doing, the two men said they were peace protesters who were there to inspect US military planes. They had a folded banner with them.

Veterans for Peace

The airport was closed for about 40 minutes, the lawsuit said, with two planes delayed to depart and a cargo plane forced to stay in the air until the all-clear was given.

The court heard from both men serving in the US military before becoming anti-war activists in the 1960s. They are members of a US-based group called Veterans for Peace.

Right off the bat, they both admitted to punching the hole in the fence and entering the airport grounds.

Testifying to the jury, they said they did so to protest the United States’ military use of Shannon as a stopover en route to places like the Middle East.

Mayers, of Monte Alte Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Kauff, of Arnold Drive, Woodstock, New York had both pleaded not guilty to trespassing, criminal damage and interfering with the operation, safety or management of Shannon Airport on March 17, 2019.

The trial atmosphere was pleasant at times, with all airport and guard officials who dealt with the men describing them as courteous and respectful. Airport and fire officer Richard Moloney said they were ‘the kindest and most courteous protesters’ he had ever encountered in his 19 years at Shannon Airport.

In turn, Mayers and Kauff praised the officials they dealt with for their respect and professionalism, saying they had never been treated better in their years of protest.

The two pensioners spent 13 days in Limerick Jail in 2019, after bail was refused by the District Court amid fears they were fleeing jurisdiction. This was overturned by the High Court, but they remained in Ireland for a further nine months until their passports were returned. They returned from the United States to stand trial in Dublin.

At the heart of the defense’s evidence on the criminal damage charge was the assertion that the accused men honestly believed their action in cutting the fence was justified in order to protect other people.

The jury was told that it was not necessary that this belief be justified, but that the belief had to be sincerely founded. In her instructions, Judge Patricia Ryan told the jury she was being asked to enter the minds of the two defendants.

In his closing speech, Tony McGillicuddy BL, prosecuting, acknowledged that the jury might have sympathy for the two defendants.

“They are sincere and honorable people,” he said. “That cannot be disputed and is not disputed.”

But Mr McGillicuddy said the jury had to set aside sympathy and consider the law in the case.

According to the prosecution, the men had no legitimate excuse to damage the perimeter fence. He said there was no evidence that there was any ammunition on board the plane. He said there was no evidence that it was necessary to protect anyone.

“They were there for education and law enforcement training purposes,” Mr McGillicuddy said. He said they were “making a political statement, drawing attention to issues, highlighting issues”.

“That may be very understandable, but it’s not a lawful excuse under the Criminal Damage Act,” he said.

With respect to the charge of obstructing the operation, security and management of an airport, Mr. McGillicuddy argued that the presence of men on the taxiway at Shannon Airport had caused the closure of the airport.

Intrusion

Regarding the charge of trespassing with intent to cause damage or interfere with property, the charge was that the men admitted to entering the airport grounds and told officials that they were there to inspect an aircraft.

Michael Hourigan BL, defending Mayers, told the jury the men were not engaged in any sort of “political posturing”, but had a sincere belief that the actions they took that day could save lives.

Mayers had “an ethical and moral obligation that he felt, based on everything he had been through and everything he knew,” Mr Hourigan said.

Regarding the prosecution’s assertion that there were no weapons on board the plane that day, Mr. Huorigan noted that no airport official had inspected the plane, nor was it the practice to inspect US military planes at Shannon Airport.

“You don’t have to determine whether or not there were weapons on that plane or a breach of Irish neutrality,” Mr Hourigan said. “It’s about whether these sincere and honorable men are sincere and honorable when they say to you, ‘I believe this, and this is what I have done’.”

He told the jury members that when they reached the age of 83 they could “do something different than stand in the mud in a wet field in Clare”.

“But that’s what he (Mayers) felt he had to do to protect human life.”

Mr Hourigan said there was much more to constitutional democracy than the letter of the law.

“The jury is the lamp that shows freedom lives,” he said, citing an old legal adage. “Be the lamp and show freedom lives. The only way to do that is with not guilty verdicts.”

In her closing speech, Carol Doherty BL, defending Kauff, told the jury that “the best thing about the law in Ireland” was that there is a built-in mechanism to ensure that, in the right circumstances, a person does not cannot be found guilty of criminal damages. , provided they can prove that they honestly believed their actions were legal.

She recalled her client’s testimony to the jury that he believed the plane in Shannon was an “American war machine” en route to war-torn Yemen.

Regarding the charge of interfering with the operation of the airport, Ms Doherty said the airfield was closed to ensure no one else was on the airfield, not because her customer was walking along the traffic lane.

Regarding the allegation that the men entered with intent to commit criminal damage or interfere with property, Ms Doherty said that when he was met by the airport agent, Kauff had a phone, his wallet, and a folded banner on his person. and nothing else.

Ms Doherty said Kauff had dedicated her life to peaceful protests.

“People who go against the greats can make a difference,” she said. “It is reasonable to assume that Mr. Kauff and Mr. Mayers could have made a difference. Hope is a powerful thing. The fact that the hope was not realized on this occasion does not mean that this action was not justified.

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