By Charley Bowman
In mid-June, 2013, Western New York Peace Center board member Valerie Niederhoffer was stopped and interrogated for several hours at the U.S.-Canadian border when returning to the US from an afternoon doing Tai Chi in Canada with friendsi.
The U.S. immigration and customs officer entered Val’s name into his computer system and discovered Val had an Order of Protection. He then asked her to pull over for an extended interview.
Orders of Protection (restraining orders) are generally given for spousal abuse, but this unique Order of Protection has been given to activists who have been arrested for challenging the U.S. assassin drone policies.
In a Gandhian action at the Drone Convergence on April 29, 2013 at Hancock Field near Syracuse NY, Valerie Niederhoffer and 30 others were arrested at the main gate. The 31 arrestees were protesting our government’s drone policy by lying down in front of the main entrance to the Hancock Field drone base and covering themselves with “bloodied” sheets.
The protests at Hancock Field have been going on since 2010, with the first arrests on April 22, 2011. Town of DeWitt NY authorities are trying to discourage such non-violent protests through judicial means. The current judicial methodology is two fold: upping bail for repeat “offenders” and applying an “Order of Protection”.
Western New York Peace Center board member Bonny Mahoney was charged $2,500 for bail and Peace Center member Russell Brown, $2,000. First-time arrestee Val was charged $500 for bail.
The WNY Peace Center bailed our Bonny and Russell, while the Peace Education Fund of Riverside Salem UCC/DC bailed out Valerie.
Val was charged with two crimes: disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration in the second degree.
The latter charge read”…..Valerie Niederhoffer, after being advised by Onondaga County Sheriff’s Deputy …. to disperse and get out of the roadway, they [sic] refused and they [sic] continued to intentionally cause public inconvenience, annoyance by congregating with other persons in a public place, standing in the roadway obstructing/blocking vehicular and pedestrian traffic from entering and exiting the NY Air National Guard base entrance at E. Molloy Rd T/o Dewitt [sic]. This action prevented the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office from performing an official governmental function of keeping the road way clear for vehicular traffic and to prevent injuries to protestors/pedestrians. ”
Val received a temporary “ORDER OF PROTECTION” (non-family offence — not involving victims of domestic violence).
In Val’s Order of Protection, the victim of Val’s alleged act of non-domestic violence, was Col. Greg A. Semmel, Commander of Hancock Field 174th Drone Attack Wing.
The Order of Protection continued…..”It is hereby ordered that [Val] observe the following conditions of behavior:
1. “Stay away from Col. Greg A. Semmel, the home of Col. Greg A. Semmel, the business of Col. Greg A. Semmel, the place of employment of Col. Greg A. Semmel and other [sic] Col. Greg A. Semmel.”
2. “Refrain from communication or any other contact by mail, telephone, e-mail, voice -mail or other electronic or any other means with Col. Greg A. Semmel.”
3. “Refrain from assault, stalking, harassment, aggravated harassment, menacing, reckless endangerment, strangulation, criminal obstruction of breathing or circulation, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, intimidation, threats or any criminal offense or interference with the victim ….members of family, household …..”
4. “Refrain from intentionally injuring or killing without justification the following companion animal(s), pet(s):……..”
5. “Surrender any and all handguns, pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and other firearms owned or possessed….”
6. ” …..other conditions defendant must observe for the purposes of protection: No contact at all” “….this order of protection shall remain in force until and including 04/28/14”
If Val fails to observe this Order of Protection, she may be put in jail for 7 years. There are several problems with the Order of Protection. Val (and 30 others) are clueless as tp what Col. Greg Semmel looks like, where he lives, if he’s married, or if he has a dog and/or cat.
Secondly, there has never been a nano-hint of a wisp of violence at any of the Hancock Field vigils, and no one knows if Col. Semmel observed the vigil behind the fence at Hancock Field. More likely, he was enjoying time with family/friends that sunny Sunday afternoon. In all probability, Town of DeWitt Court Judge Donald Benack, Jr. knew this prior to signing the many Orders of Protection.
Whether he was present or not, Col. Semmel is perhaps the most protected person in the history of jurisprudence ever to benefit from a restraining order protecting him from silent prone/supine civilians covered with “bloodied” sheets.
And what does “…other Col. Greg A. Semmel” mean? If Val thinks of Col. Semmel, is she committing a crime? If Val drives the Thruway through Syracuse NY, is she committing a crime? Is Val violating the Order of Protection by living in Buffalo NY? Maybe Col. Semmel lives in Buffalo NY….who knows? And so traveling back to the US from Canada can be a problem for people with restraining orders.
Val waited an hour prior to her interview with the Border Patrol. The agent, charged with protecting the United States of America from terrorists, wanted to know why Val had such an order. Val began describing the drone base at Hancock Field, the extrajudicial killing in Afghanistan, the many arrests at the peaceful protests at Hancock Field, why such killing is illegal, etc. The agent allowed Val entry to the US.
No doubt the Border Patrol agent has heard all the stories sexual assault, abuse, strangulation, criminal obstruction of breathing and forcible touching from many served with a restraining order — and allowed them entry into the United States too.
Although the delay put a dent in Val’s afternoon, there is a silver lining in Val’s story: there can be no doubt the agent is text messaging and facebooking all his colleagues and friends saying….”You won’t believe what I just heard!”.
Getting the word out about our drone policies has always been a serious problem. So it’s vital to utilize other means of communications from reliable sources. Unwittingly, Val did just that that afternoon, following Tai Chi exercises with friends.
About the Author: Charley Bowman has been the interim executive director of the Western New York Peace Center, Buffalo, New York since 2011. He received a PhD in cell biology in 1982. From 1982 to 1986, he worked on the electrical properties of brain cells in a laboratory at Albany Medical College before moving to Buffalo in January 1987 to continue work on brain cells at the University of Buffalo.
Phi Beta Iota: The US border authorities are supposed to be focused on two things: contraband, and legal right to enter the USA. Everything else, including detaining people with orders of protection, is an abuse of their authority in that time and place.