Day 15 11.20.2008

In Trial Notes on November 20, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Witness: David Schools

Yesterday and today we watched the videotaped deposition of David Schools, captain of the tugboat Cheryl Ann. In many respects, Schools testimony seems to be the centerpiece of Chevron’s case. They’ve been using his account in their press statements and on their websites which appears to have been Google-bombed back into the top spot on B v. C searches.

Part of me wonders why. Most of Schools’ testimony speaks to events that took place after the shooting aboard Parabe. In the fallout from the military raid, the tugboat was commandeered by the Ilaje and brought to shore. Captain Schools and crew were then taken back against their will to the Ilaje villages. After several days, Chevron Nigeria Ltd. eventually brokered their release with the Olubo-the Ilaje king.

While Schools’ story makes for good pulp fiction–being marched along plank ways through eerie marshes, watching village women dance strange “victory dances” along the water’s edge, catching dysentery and being cured by drafts of the Ilaje’s home-brewed kai-kai liquor–I’m not sure how it clears Chevron of liability in this case.

Aside from more Heart of Darkness material, Schools’ testimony gave Chevron’s legal team a chance to show the jury scary photos of the Ilaje slaughtering a sea turtle on the deck of the Cheryl Ann.  While the audience couldn’t actually see the pictures, we were informed that the Ilaje had taken a large butcher knife from the ship’s galley–called a lamb-splitter–and used it to butcher the turtle. The defense presented the turtle incident as a brutal act of intimidation against the tugboat crew, but on cross-examination it looks like the villagers might have had a different goal in mind:

“Do you know if the Ilaje eat sea turtles?”
“Well, they ate that one.”

“Do you know if any of your crew ate the sea turtle?”
“I don’t know–I know I personally didn’t.”

Throughout the deposition Schools referred to the Ilaje as pirates. Chevron’s attorney Ms. Mitchell, joined him in the use of the term, so that the jury was exposed to over three hours of

The pirates did this…then the pirates did that…

On cross, plaintiffs’ counsel challenged this:

[In your meeting with defense counsel before the deposition] “Was a decision made to use the word pirate as opposed to insurgent or invader?”

“Yes, I used the term and Ms. Mitchell asked me if I felt comfortable to continue using that term and I agreed.”

And so much for the exclusion of juju. Although the word itself was never mentioned, we were treated to this colorful passage:

“On Thursday morning he was holding some kind of ritualistic gathering. And they had the fire-axes and the lamb-splitter and various and sundry other implements.  This fella was wearing a bandanna. Others were wearing shells in a bandanna thing.  This fella had sprinkled some kind of red powder on these tools.

“I was gonna sneak a picture of it but their apparent frame of mind suggested to me that I better not aggravate them.”

Witness: John Stapleton

Stapleton was the Meren Platform Field Supervisor. His videotaped deposition spoke to the process by which information on events happening on the barge during the occupation were relayed to CNL’s crisis management team in Escravos.

Aside from his misuse of the words “apprise” and “appraise” which even infected Ms. Mitchell’s questioning, Stapleton’s testimony was remarkable for showing how CNL’s line of communication during the crisis was literally a game of telephone.

Stapleton received calls from Steve Peace aboard the barge. He then reported Peace’s speech to Randy Hervey, the CNL North Offshore Area Superintendent in Escravos. The thing is, Steve Peace’s phone calls consisted of recounting what other expats aboard the barge had said. In other words, Stapleton was reporting reported speech to CNL management. Hearsay upon hearsay.

As the speech worked it’s way up the chain, we got dramatic accounts like this:

Steve Peace said that the people […] were spreading diesel all over the CBL 101 barge. Said it was intense on the outside of the barge that they could smell it inside and that people were starting to think they would lose their lives.

He also said that chanting was going on and that they were going to set the 101 on fire. He said they were lighting matches and putting them out with their fingers.

He said that a lot of people were starting to scream and yell inside the barge that they wanted to get out and jump in the water. They thought they were going to get burned up.

Witness: Randall Hervey

Hervey’s testimony focused on the speech reported to him on the situation aboard the platform.  He also spoke about the production status of the Parabe platform: it’s a hub, collecting all of the oil from the North area well jackets.

Hervey stated that his only source of information from the barge was Dave Parkin – CNL’s representative.

“The climate that was passed on was that people were scared. There seemed to be a lot of confusion from the community folks.”

A telling moment in the cross-exam:

“Do you if Dave and Steve left their offices or if they gathered all their information from inside their offices?”

“I don’t know”

Witness: Derek Mackey

A piping contractor from Texas, Mackey gave testimony on the occupation of the barge and platform by the Ilaje.

First of all, Mackey corroborated accounts that the Ilaje rushed the CNL operators who were attempting to lock the gate to the platform from the barge.  However, it was difficult to separate what he had actually seen and what he had heard reported to him from others. Mackay did clarify that the expatriates were ordered to stay in the living quarters area by Mike Browne, not by the Ilaje.

When asked if he felt his movements constrained, he recounted an incident where he left his room-where he spent most of the 3 days-and tried to walk up the steps to the roof of the radio room to get some sun. He claimed that right outside the galley, he saw two Ilaje drinking clear liquid and holding knives. They stopped him and ordered him to return to his quarters, their breath stinking of alcohol. That was the only occasion he could report of Ilaje carrying knives.

Mackey also reported that he personally saw Ilaje pouring diesel from 55-gallon barrels onto the barge deck, while he stood on a walkway, 40 feet above the deck.

“How did you know that what was being poured from the barrels was diesel?”
“I guess I knew just from working on the barge and knowing what’s in those barrels.”

This observation was of course passed on to Mike Browne, the other expats, and eventually on to CNL’s crisis team. Mackey’s assumption about the barrels presumably blossomed into the hysterical accounts of expats ready to throw themselves into the sea to avoid being burnt.

Mackey also testified on the arrival of the Nigerian military personnel and the shooting of the protesters. In his version–unlike in previous testimony–an Ilaje raised a large dummy spool (large metal piping) over his head and rushed towards a military man when he was shot. Previous accounts claimed that the Ilaje wrested a gun away from a soldier before being shot.

On cross it was revealed that Mackay had reported to Mike Brown that he saw two Ilaje rushing towards the soldiers with dummy spools raised above their hand, but his deposition stated that he saw one Ilaje already lying dead on the ground while another one raised the dummy spool.

With numerous discrepancies like these, it was hard to know what to make of Mackay’s testimony.  He contradicted other expats’ accounts on numerous details: never heard Ilaje threaten anyone’s life, never heard them say they were “prepared to die”. He never saw broken bottles, never saw razors. Most glaringly, Mackey entered the radio room after the military raid occurred.  He didn’t see any damage to the door and said the room was all in order.

So what, with all these contradicting reports, actually happened on the barge?

The day ended with the beginning of Billy Burnham’s videotaped deposition. I will treat it in its entirety on Monday, 11.24.08.

  1. This version is fairly accurate.I was there.

  2. David Schools testimony is perfectly plausible. Unless you have actually been in some of the villages it is difficult for the layman to visulise. I have had 15 years of experience in Nigeria both offshore and in the swamp and have seen quite a number of incidents that would be difficult to visulise.

    Mackays account is accurate for the most part as I myself witnessed
    some of the incidents. The Ilaje indeed had been drinking KI Ki and smoking ganga you could smell it, achohol and dope don’t mix and anything is liable to happen.

    My office window faced the deck and I probably had an 180 degree view. It was me who requested Mike Browne to keep all the guys in the quarters. This was done to eliminate contact with the boaders and therefore avoiding confrontation with the same. Tension among some of the expats was running high. I also made periodic walks outside to assess the situation. My observations were the reported to Escravos.

  3. Thank you Mr. Parkin for your comments. We don’t seem to agree on all the points of this case, but I want you to know that I really appreciate your observations. You’re a very welcome guest in these humble quarters. ~Scott Gilmore

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