City officials speak with woman protesting in a tree

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COLUMBIA - Columbia City spokesman Steve Sapp, police Chief Geoff Jones and Maj. Tom Reddin of Boone County Sheriff's Department attempted Monday morning to talk a woman out of tree.

It has now been a week since Sutu Forte began protesting the Hinkson Creek trail extension, 23 feet off the ground in a tree. City officials told Forte she has until Friday to come down from the tree on her own.

Forte's supporters said authorities made them turn off the generator that gave heat up to the tree where Forte is protesting, as it was in the construction zone. Law enforcement also put fence around the tree.

"The fact is they want her out of the tree, so they can go down there and cut the trees," said Pat Holt, Forte's supporter.

Brian Johnstone, another Forte supporter, said he lives down Bluff Dale Drive and came to the tree as soon as he heard the police were there.

"I immediately started moving things that have been here to support Sutu," he said.

After talking to officials, Forte called attorney Dan Viets, in case she will be charged.

"She might be charged with trespass, or she might be charged with a variety of other minor offenses," he said. "She's engaging in acts of civil disobedience. By their very nature, she recognizes that there is a risk that she could be arrested."

Viets said whether Forte is violating the law or not, it is something that will be debated in court. 

"If she's being ordered out just because she's protesting, that's wrong and that's that's illegal," he said. "That's unconstitutional."

Darron Blakemore, whose house is adjacent to the area where Forte is protesting, said he is having a hard time getting out.

"That's been very busy here in the last week," he said. "Parking is at a premium."

Blakemore said he still supports the protest, even though he doesn't want to be involved in it.

"I like Sutu," he said. "She's putting in a valiant effort."

Holt said some Forte's supporters are planning to go to the City Council meeting Monday evening.

A judge issued an order Friday to remove Forte from the tree before Nov. 8.