SANDISFIELD, Mass. ― When Karla Colon-Aponte arrived at the Otis State Forest on the morning of Oct. 25, she intended to join her fellow protesters praying beside energy giant Kinder Morgan’s Connecticut Expansion Project line, a four-mile-long natural gas pipeline that runs in a loop through the town of Sandisfield in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts.
The Connecticut Expansion Project has been the focus of sustained activist resistance in this sleepy rural community ever since Kinder Morgan began work at the site in late April. The pipeline, which went into operation last month, links natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. The portion of the project in Sandisfield cuts through Berkshire wilderness, across old-growth forest and alongside waterways, which pipeline critics say could potentially damage the natural resources in the state forest.
Colon-Aponte, 22, is Taina, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico, and is part of a group known as the “water protectors,” who have traveled the country protesting energy infrastructure projects, using nonviolent resistance tactics to stop projects that they see as endangering water resources.
The Massachusetts State Police, expecting trouble from the protesters, were already on site in force when Colon-Aponte arrived at the pipeline. The two sides converged on a dirt road as tensions began to rise with the early morning mist. It started as a faceoff between the protesters and the cops, but quickly escalated. As the police closed in, Colon-Aponte tried to move away from the front line.
After she turned her back, an officer shoved her repeatedly, Colon-Aponte said ― at least “four or five times.” When Colon-Aponte raised her arms in submission and turned around to ask the officer to stop, she said, her hand grazed his — which provided an opening for him to arrest her for assaulting a police officer.
Colon-Aponte was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, “after she allegedly pushed a trooper who was trying to clear protesters off a road they were blocking,” Massachusetts State Police Director of Media Communications David Procopio said in an email. She was one of five people arrested that day, and one of the more than 100 who have been arrested protesting at the pipeline this year. She now faces up to two and half years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Colon-Aponte said the police reaction to the protests, which have been peaceful and…