One week ago today, James Leroy Marker made headlines when he shot at the Sabal Trail Pipeline on State Road 200 near Dunnellon in Marion County and then led Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) deputies and Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) on a chase that ended in Floral City, culminating in Marker’s death.
Around 9 AM on Sunday, February 26, Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) received at least one call informing that a man was shooting at the pipeline, possibly wearing body armor or tactical gear. MCSO deployed their SWAT team and an armored vehicle nicknamed “Bearcat” according to Lauren Lettelier, the Public Information Officer (PIO) for MCSO. 66-year-old Marker, from Chocoloskee, Florida, left the shooting scene before the Bearcat arrived, driving his full-size Chevy pickup into Citrus County. CCSO deputies and an FHP trooper spotted Marker’s vehicle, and a high-speed chase ensued. CCSO deputies first used stop sticks in Inverness, damaging Markers vehicle, but failed to stop him. In Floral City, an FHP trooper executed a Precision Immobilization Technique, or PIT maneuver, near Floral Park Drive. Marker engaged deputies, but did not fire, according to Sgt. Steve Gaskins, PIO of the FHP.
Reports in the first hour of the active investigation stated that Marker opened fire on deputies. As the investigation continued, FHP corrected the statement. Marker fired no shots at CCSO deputies or the trooper.
Due to officer involvement in a fatal shooting incident, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will investigate Marker’s death, which is a standard procedure. Detective Jason Strickland, Deputy Gabriel Gerena, and Deputy Jericho McIntyre have all been placed on paid administrative leave per CCSO policy until the investigation by FDLE is completed. Trooper Nicolas Dolan has also been placed on paid administrative leave by the FHP, per a similar policy.
According to PIO Lettelier of the MCSO, security has been increased near the pipeline in Marion County, and “it will continue until we see fit.” No threats were made against the pipeline prior to the shooting according to Lettelier. Heather Yates, PIO for the CCSO said no additional patrols will be handled by the CCSO, and extra security would be handled by the pipeline companies and contractors in Citrus County. Due to the extensive area of the crimes, and the different agencies involved, further public information will be withheld by the CCSO, FHP, and MCSO until the FDLE has completed the officer-involved shooting investigation.
Questions have surfaced concerning Marker’s involvement, if any, in the Sabal Trail Pipeline Resistance, a protest group trying to block the pipeline and its construction. The Suncoast Standard has uncovered a couple of facts that may concern those in the Citrus and Marion County communities.
First, prior to the shooting, two Sabal Trail protesters entered the pipeline and refused to leave when MCSO deputies arrived on the scene on Wednesday, February 22. Nicolas Segal-Wright and Karrie Kay Ford were eventually removed by Marion County Fire Rescue, and each was charged with 3 felony counts including grand theft, trespassing, and criminal mischief. This happened just a day before a pre-planned weekend call to action February 23-27, intended to disrupt the pipeline construction and sponsored by the Sabal Trail resistance group.
Ford and Segal-Wright discussed the weekend of action during an interview with The Final Straw that was posted on itsgoingdown.org. Although protesters who were interviewed after a memorial for Marker, held at the section of pipeline where he shot the pipeline and surrounding equipment, stated he was not a regular protester known to the group, it is not known at this point if the call to action was the cause for Marker’s actions. Marker’s actions against the pipeline corresponds within the dates for the call to action.
Second, in a story posted on itsgoingdown.org titled “Honoring the Life and Death of Pipeline Saboteur, James Leroy Marker,” the website attempts to martyr Marker, and honor his sacrifice. It reads in part, “…we feel that focusing on honoring the sacrifice Marker made to take a stand against this pipeline is of a greater immediate importance than debating the strategy, tactics or morality of his action.” The concern by many residents is the extent to which these protestors will go to block, disrupt, and destroy the pipeline.
Once the FDLE completes its investigation, we will learn more from MCSO and CCSO. While this pipeline has been controversial, there is no justification for shooting at equipment and pipeline across a busy Florida road. Once the motives for this shooting are made public by law enforcement, further questions will need to be addressed. Was Marker a supporter of the Sabal Trail Pipeline Resistance? Did the call to action push him to make the fateful decision he did on that fateful Sunday morning, a week ago? Will the Sabal Trail Pipeline Resistance denounce the actions of James Leroy Marker?
The Suncoast Standard will remain on top of the story, and bring you updates as we receive them.