Earth First! v. FBI jurors examine bombed Bari car

By Chris Nichols Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday April 18, 2002

Jurors in the Earth First! v. FBI case examined up-close the bomb-blasted car environmental activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were traveling in almost 12 years ago. 

The 1981 Subaru is a key piece of evidence for the plaintiffs in their attempt to prove that the FBI and Oakland Police Department mishandled the bombing investigation involving the two activists. 

Attorneys for the FBI and Oakland Police claim that Bari and Cherney knew the bomb was in the back seat of the car and that it was visible. 

Lead Counsel for Bari and Cherney, Dennis Cunningham, claims the bomb was planted under the front seat of the car, invisible to Bari and Cherney. 

In a press conference at the site of the damaged car, Cunningham pointed to the hole in the front driver side floorboards and the damage to the front driver side door. "The front door is smashed, destroyed. The back door is fine, it functioned perfectly well because the bomb wasn’t placed by that door. It was placed under the front seat, that’s our contention," says Cunningham. 

Jurors were able to examine all sides of the car and paid close attention to the details of the damage, crucial to the case of both Earth First! and the FBI. "They paid close attention as if they were in the court room even though they were outside here at the site of the car," says Cunningham. 

Bomb expert David Williams will testify Thursday regarding the damage caused by the explosion in the attempt to pinpoint the bomb’s exact location at the time it went off. 

Wednesday’s viewing of the car followed further testimony from Oakland Police officers. 

Attorney for the plaintiffs Robert Bloom questioned defendant Oakland Police Sgt. Robert Chenault about his involvement in the investigation of the bombing and his knowledge of the Earth First! environmental movement. 

Chenault testified that he considered Earth First! a violent terrorist organization. "Earth First! has a past of violence and sabotage. Judi and Darryl were leaders of Earth First!," explained Chenault. 

As the second assigned investigator at the bomb scene, Chenault was convinced shortly after the bombing that Bari and Cherney knew the bomb was in the back of their car and were planning to use it in their campaign against the timber industry. "It was my belief that they were transporting the bomb to Santa Cruz and that something was going to happen in Santa Cruz," says Chenault. 

Bloom also questioned Chenault about his involvement in drafting the initial warrant for the arrest of Bari and Cherney and his search of both Bari and Cherney’s homes in Northern California. 

Attorney for the current and former members of the Oakland Police, Maria Bee, asked Chenault if fellow activist Shannon Marr’s claims that Bari and Cherney had adopted a non-violent approach were significant. According to Chenault, "I listened to what Marr said about Bari and Cherney but also considered that she might be influenced by her friendship with the two activists." 

Sgt. Myron B. Hanson a former member of the Oakland Police arson bomb detail and not a defendant in the case also testified Wednesday. 

Attorney for Bari and Cherney Tony Serra questioned Hanson concerning his bomb training and experience reporting to bomb scenes. 

Hanson testified that at the time of the bombing he had had three weeks of bomb school but admitted he was "not an expert." 

Hanson also told the court that he had never seen a case like the bombing involving Bari and Cherney and that "the Oakland Police had no bomb specialist." 

Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked Hanson about a meeting between the FBI and Oakland Police to discuss the history of Earth First! shortly after the bombing. 

Attorney Serra asked why Hanson’s notes from his meeting with the FBI had not specified Bari or Cherney but rather Earth First! activities in Arizona and Santa Cruz. Hanson testified that the meeting was about Earth First! in general, not about the two activists involved in the bombing saying "My note-taking in kind of poor. I remember the FBI was doing most of the talking." 


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On Monday attorneys painted two very different pictures of defendant Sergeant Michael Sitterud and his handling of the 1990 car bombing that left environmental activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney injured. 

Bee asked Sitterud about his knowledge of the Earth First! movement and the philosophy of the activist group. "One of the things I had learned about Earth First! was that they believed it was their right to do things, to shut down the lumber companies, whether it was legal or illegal," says Sitterud. 

Sitterud testified that he was not convinced, after watching a video of Judi Bari, that the activist was committed to non-violent environmental action, saying the video showed Bari’s denial of violence to be "tongue-in-cheek." 

Bee questioned Sitterud revealing that the chief investigator belonged to at least six environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited. 

In response to how Sitterud and other Oakland Police officers decided Bari and Cherney were the main suspects, Sitterud responded that he had previously seen a similar bomb found in a conflict with a lumber company in Northern California. 

Bee also asked Sitterud about his work after the bombing to locate an alternate suspect other than Bari or Cherney. Sitterud testified that he had conducted several interviews up north hoping to develop more leads on the case and collecting evidence. 

Supporters of the Earth First! movement claim federal and police investigators have done little to find the actual bombing suspects after dropping charges against Bari and Cherney due to a lack of evidence. In response, the FBI and Oakland Police claim that Earth First! supporters have refused to speak with investigators, slowing their efforts to gather information on the case.