A nature activist's seven-day protest of eminent domain came to an end early Tuesday after she was arrested by Boone County deputies on suspicion of trespassing.
It's Our Wild Nature chairperson Sutu Forte was taken into custody about 8:15 a.m. at the site of her protest in a Red Oak at the end of Bluff Dale Drive. Deputies with the help of Columbia firefighters escorted her down in a bucket lift without incident and placed her in handcuffs.
Forte was not immediately able to comment at the time of her arrest, but was in good spirits as a crowd of about 20 sang “This Little Light of Mine” and shouted messages of support. She showed her handcuffs to the crowd, receiving a round of applause. She smiled as she was taken to the sheriff's department, where she will be cited, issued a court date and released.
From the backseat of the cruiser, Forte said she loved all her supporters and thanked them for their efforts. She also said she needed some rest after a week in the weather and with limited mobility in the tree.
The Boone County Sheriff’s Department issued a news release later in the morning, describing its efforts to compel Forte to come down on her own accord, as well as the details of her arrest Tuesday.
“Ms. Fourcade (Forte), after approximately 20 minutes of discussion, including her consulting by phone with a local attorney, refused to come down,” the release said. “The Columbia Fire Department was then summoned to respond with a ladder truck and rescue bucket and efforts began to position the truck for a safe extraction of Ms. Fourcade.
"Upon proper positioning of the rescue bucket, Ms. Fourcade was informed of the extremely dangerous conditions she was placing herself and responders if she forced them to physically remove her."
Pat Holt said authorities were kind to Forte and gentle as they placed her under arrest. She said the tumultuous week brought people together and divided them as well, a reflection of the city’s division over construction of the trail and the use of eminent domain.
“It was the trees she didn’t want ruined,” Holt said. “She wants people here. She’s had several Saturdays where she encouraged people to come out and walk.”
Sandra Warren, who lives in the neighborhood and supported Forte's protest, decried the city and county removing her.
“I mean it's crazy,” Warren said. “You all are taking her to jail for standing up for something she believes in. She loves her forest. There are all kinds of other things you could be worried about around here, but you are worried about somebody trying to keep her forest. She has lived here for so long, this is what she knows. I'm just upset. I really am.”
City spokesman Steve Sapp, who was at the scene, declined to comment. Construction crews were also at the site, ready to begin work on the section of the Shepherd to Rollins Trail through the group's 35-acre property, which served as the catalyst for Fortes' protest.
The easement for the trail was seized from It’s Our Wild Nature by the city of Columbia, an action approved by Circuit Judge Jeff Harris and later upheld by the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District.
The seizure of the easement led Forte to perch herself in a tent in a platform about 20 feet off the ground in the tree. For the past week she refused to come down despite efforts of authorities, and Harris issued an order Friday empowering the county to forcibly remove her.