Protestors pay only a $510 towing charge after documents reveal County targeted them for their speech and billed them for bogus charges.

Roanoke, Virginia, July 27, 2023 – This week, Roanoke County, Virginia, dismissed its $13,000 retaliatory lawsuit against three Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) protestors, with the protestors paying only a $510 charge for towing the vehicle used as part of the protest. In an unprecedented civil action, the County claimed over $13,000 from the protesters, but discovery in the case recently revealed that the County filed suit in hopes of “sending a message” that “MVP protesting will not be tolerated in the County, and that protesters will be responsible for costs incurred.” EarthRights International and Roanoke attorney Hyatt Browning Shirkey represent the protestors.

On June 30, 2021, three environmental defenders under the label of “Old Folks Resist” engaged in a protest against the Mountain Valley Pipeline project in Virginia, locking themselves down to a car on a mountain road in Roanoke County. After a 15-hour extraction, the county police arrested Alan Moore, Deborah Kushner, and Bridget Kelley-Dearing. Each of the “Old Folks” consciously engaged in civil disobedience and accepted a misdemeanor criminal conviction, including a $1,000 fine, in August 2021. Roanoke County sought restitution for law enforcement costs in that criminal case, but the judge denied the County’s request. More than six months later, in March 2022, Roanoke County filed County of Roanoke v. Moore, a retaliatory lawsuit against these defenders, seeking more than $13,000 in claimed costs. 

The protestors agreed to pay the actual costs of towing the vehicle, a mere $510. That was a small fraction of the County’s claim, which also included:

  • Nearly $11,000 for the salaries of 24 police officers who billed more than 278 hours
  • Over $1,800 in equipment
  • Over $200 for food, including $125 for pizza

But recent disclosures in the case completely undermined the County’s position and showed that the lawsuit was a clear First Amendment violation. The County’s motive in filing the lawsuit, as documented in an email from the County Attorney, was “Sending a message that such unlawful and unsafe MVP protesting will not be tolerated in the County and that protesters will be responsible for costs incurred.” The same email warns that the media might “report that County police is aligned with MVP and is punishing elderly people who are trying to protect County citizens’ property rights (water quality, etc.).” The County admitted that it had never before filed a lawsuit like this, seeking to recover police officer time, even for much more serious crimes.

County police adopted special measures to recover money from MVP protestors and made it clear that these unusual procedures were specific to pipeline protests; one email advises that “we will similarly track expenses for any future pipeline-related incident.” But the County later admitted that at least one of the police officers and some of the equipment was improperly included in its bill, and nearly all of the equipment was not actually used at the June 30 protest – it was purchased two weeks later after the County police compiled what they referred to as a  “wish list” of equipment. 

The County ultimately dropped its demands for payment of all police time and equipment in dismissing its lawsuit.

Deborah Kushner issued the following statement:

“We took this action because of the urgency of the climate catastrophe and our deep love for this land, these waters, all the forest creatures, and one another. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a disaster for Appalachia and for the world. As elders, we needed to resist. As a community, we needed to resist. As privileged people, we needed to resist. We knew we would be arrested, but the County wasn’t satisfied with that– they wanted to make us pay so that others wouldn’t take similar actions. That effort failed and instead only further galvanized us and others.”

Bridget Kelley issued the following statement:

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline is threatening our water, land, and wildlife during its construction phase. If completed, it would continue to do so, transporting fracked gas from Virginia through our communities and environment. For nearly a decade, we have done everything in our legal power to stop this pipeline from the destruction it wields. I was shocked when the county filed suit against me and my fellow ‘old folks’ for expenses the police supposedly incurred during a peaceful act of civil disobedience to stop work on the pipeline. The idea that Roanoke County wants to punish us with this fine to deter others from standing up for their rights and their future is not only unconstitutional but downright shameful. This pipeline is not a done deal. Together we can and will win.”

Alan Moore issued the following statement:

“We are grateful for our team and supporters who have helped us remain strong resisting Roanoke County’s campaign of intimidation against protesters. Despite the seemingly unrestrained power of the collusion between the fossil fuel industry and the state, we do what we must to protect what we love. Our home on stolen land is not a sacrifice zone but a sacred place, a climate refuge of natural wonder, beauty, and life-sustaining resources.

“Our leaders have failed to act or recognize this climate catastrophe that threatens us all. Thankfully this fracked gas pipeline for export will never be built. This is not a boast; rather, it is the knowledge there are countless others who, if they must, will lay their bodies down. 

“This is not an isolated incident, and we know we are not alone. There is a unified global campaign against unjust sham projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline. For our communities under assault, we have the opportunity to transform our communities and ourselves. Watch us as we continue to transform MVP’s lies into truth, greed into sacrifice, violence into love, and doom into hope. Let us honor our ancestors and grandchildren with our continued acts of love.”

EarthRights General Counsel Marco Simons issued the following statement:

“This suit was clearly unconstitutional, and the County knew it would not survive. Roanoke County does not sue murderers, arsonists, and robbers for the police officer’s time involved in responding to their offenses, but it filed this ridiculous suit against three nonviolent protestors solely to send a message to deter other MVP protests. The County was worried that it would be seen as being aligned with MVP, and for good reason – there was no reason to file this lawsuit other than to support the pipeline project. Governmental officials should enforce the law neutrally and above all should focus on protecting their communities from climate change, not on persecuting those who have the courage to fight against it.”


The controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline project is a key element in entrenching dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come. The 300-mile-long, 42-inch pipeline, which would carry fracked gas from shale fields in West Virginia to existing pipelines, is primarily intended for exporting fossil gas. 

The Sierra Club estimates that the pipeline would be responsible for 89 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent at a time when experts agree that no new fossil fuel infrastructure is needed. The project passes through the Jefferson National Forest and underneath the Appalachian Trail and has been fined millions of dollars for environmental violations. Backed by the Biden administration, some members of Congress attempted to fast-track the Mountain Valley Pipeline project in the recent debt-ceiling bill, despite widespread opposition from environmentalists, Indigenous communities, and human rights activists. Nonetheless, the project has been repeatedly blocked by the courts due to violations of environmental law, and the federal Fourth CIrcuit Court of Appeals halted construction again in an order on July 10.

The County of Roanoke v. Moore case is the latest iteration of efforts of local law enforcement to retaliate against pipeline protestors – efforts that EarthRights has previously successfully resisted. In April of 2022, a Minnesota state court ruled that police violated the legal rights of water protectors at the Line 3 pipeline when they blocked access to an Indigenous-led convergence space known as Namewag Camp. The ruling rebuked police officers’ attempts to unlawfully target protestors. 

Learn more about the case

Kate Fried, EarthRights International
(202) 257.0057