Authorities on Tuesday removed activist Sutu Forté from the tree in which she had staged a protest of the Shepard-to-Rollins trail connector project since Oct. 28.
Forté was removed from the tree by a fire truck’s hydraulic bucket, handcuffed and taken from the area in a Columbia police car. She was released from jail a short time later.
When she was taken down from the tree, police kept her away from where supporters and the media were standing. One of her supporters held the summons Forté was given by police, indicating a charge of trespass in the first degree and a court date of Dec. 2.
Columbia city code says trespass in the first degree is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine.
Police Chief Geoff Jones would not comment on why she was arrested. Steven Sapp, director of community relations for the city of Columbia, also declined to comment.
After being handcuffed Forté said: “The police handcuffed me very gently.”
KOMU 8 recorded the scene as she was removed by a city fire truck.
Afterward, firefighters brought her belongings down from the tree in the bucket truck so her supporters wouldn’t have to climb back into the tree to collect them.
Supporters in the crowd sang “This Little Light of Mine” as Forté was brought down from the tree. Jones then informed Marlene Stevens-Hanson, a supporter, that Forté would, in fact, be arrested and jailed.
“You really have to put yourself out there to make a point sometimes in this world that we live in,” Stevens-Hanson said. “The people who have put all of this in motion have never even been back there. They have no idea what it’s like. It was worth fighting for, and I’m proud of her. She’s the bravest person I’ve ever met.”
“It’s crazy. You got all kinds of other things you can arrest people for,” said neighborhood resident Sandy Warren. “But some old lady in a tree? No harm. Every day you all had police officers over here. I just think there’s better things they could have done.”
Forté had climbed the tree to draw attention to the number of old trees that would be destroyed during construction of the trail. She had said she would not come down on her own.
On Monday, local officials had given Forté until Friday to come down from the tree.
Maj. Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department climbed into the tree near a cul-de-sac on Bluffdale Drive on Monday morning and told Forté the steps the city was taking, Sapp said, adding that Reddin spoke with Forté for 45 minutes.
The area around the tree was roped off with orange plastic netting to keep the public back.
Sheriff’s deputies Monday morning had turned off the generators Forté was using to power electric blankets and a cellphone. They were turned back on around 6 p.m. Monday.
Forté called into David Lile’s “Columbia Morning” show on KRFU Monday to speak to Mayor Brian Treece.
“They are not the victim here,” Treece said of Forté and It’s Our Wild Nature on the show, explaining that the city had condemned the property five days before the nonprofit bought it.
The opportunity to halt this project is long past, he said. “The council has voted, taxpayers have expended dollars for this, and we have to move this project forward,” he said. “To do otherwise would violate federal law and a circuit judge’s court order.”
Forté climbed the red oak on the property Oct. 28 and had remained there through cold weather and snow in protest of the trail construction. She said she would chain herself to the tree to halt construction and prevent destruction of the forest.
On Friday, Circuit Judge Jeff Harris said he had no choice but to approve the removal of Forté from the tree.
Harris granted the city an easement on the property in January that it obtained through eminent domain. The Klifton R. Altis Trust owned the land when the Columbia City Council approved the trail, but the nonprofit It’s Our Wild Nature, of which Forté is president, later bought the land and tried to fight the easement.
Construction of the trail began Monday.
Supervising editor is Fred Anklam.