- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 29, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Two Colorado residents have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit charging they were jailed in violation of their constitutional rights after unfurling a banner critical of Peabody Energy Corp. at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting at a college campus in Gillette two years ago.

Boulder residents Thomas Asprey and Leslie Glustrom filed suit in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne Tuesday. They’re suing Peabody, the Northern Wyoming Community College District and a college district police officer.

Company and college officials deny any wrongdoing.

Asprey and Glustrom claim Peabody had moved its 2013 shareholders’ meeting to the campus of Gillette College because of mine worker protests at the company headquarters in St. Louis that year. They claim the college allowed Peabody to direct college police officers to suppress protests at the meeting.

Leading up to the Wyoming meeting, Peabody had spun off some of its operations into a new company, Patriot Coal. The new company had declared bankruptcy in 2012 and had tried to shed mine worker pension and health care obligations. Members of the United Mine Workers of America staged protests in St. Louis in 2013 before the companies and the union reached an agreement.



In their lawsuit, Asprey and Glustrom say that police at the Gillette College informed them they could only display a banner proclaiming “Peabody Abandons Miners” in a fenced area far from the college building where the shareholders’ meeting took place. The two claimed they were arrested after unfurling it to allow some miners to take a photo of it in front of the building.

“It was really ridiculous for just speaking and trying to show somebody some support. It’s ridiculous,” Asprey said of his arrest.

Asprey and Glustrom were held in jail overnight and had to travel back to Gillette twice to appear in court as the Campbell County Attorney’s Office prosecuted them on a charge of trespass. Circuit Court Judge Wendy Bartlett of Gillette last year dismissed the case against them, ruling that their arrests were in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Darold Killmer, a Denver lawyer representing Asprey and Glustrom, said Wednesday their case raises important issues of constitutional rights being oppressed by both corporations and governments. Casper lawyers Donald Fuller and Ian Sandefer are also representing Asprey and Glustrom.

“I was disappointed that the college so readily accepted Peabody’s scheme to banish protesters, basically,” Killmer said. “These so-called free speech zones are problematic anyway. I sort of think that the United States is a free speech zone.”

Glustrom, an environmentalist, said Wednesday she’s pressing the federal lawsuit because she believes that preservation of civil liberties demands constant vigilance.

Glustrom also she said tracks coal issues in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state. She said she wants the state to come to terms with what she sees as the industry’s bleak future.

“Coal is non-renewable, which means the jobs are non-renewable,” Glustrom said. “It’s really important that Wyoming have this conversation about what does it mean for the workers, and what are we going to do for the workers.”

Chris Curran, spokesman for Peabody, issued a statement Wednesday saying the company believes the lawsuit is without merit.

Wendy Smith, college public information director, issued a statement saying college district officials haven’t reviewed the lawsuit but are aware of events surrounding it.

“Based on our information, we believe our campus police professionals acted appropriately under the circumstances,” Smith said. “The safety of our students, staff, faculty and visitors is our number one priority.”

Peabody, which operates large mines in Wyoming, saw its shares drop sharply last week on word that it had posted a larger than expected loss in the first quarter.

Demand for coal nationwide has slipped in recent years in response to low natural gas prices and increasing federal demands to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants.

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