Eight arrested during protest at Pfizer plant

Members of the City of Groton Police Department talk to Erin Mitchell of New Haven before arresting her Wednesday for crossing a police line during a protest outside the main entrance of the Pfizer Research & Development facility in Groton.
Members of the City of Groton Police Department talk to Erin Mitchell of New Haven before arresting her Wednesday for crossing a police line during a protest outside the main entrance of the Pfizer Research & Development facility in Groton. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Groton - Eight people from the local Occupy movement, including a Stonington woman, were arrested Wednesday outside the main gate of Pfizer Inc. when they allegedly crossed police lines and refused to leave the company's Eastern Point Road property.

Seven of the protesters linked arms just outside the pharmaceutical giant's entrance and refused to move, telling a Pfizer contractor that they wanted to talk to a company official about its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is an organization that brings legislators and corporations together to write new laws that protesters say favor corporations over working people.

"Unfortunately, as usual, we didn't get a response," Jason Morris of New London said.

Chanting slogans such as "Hey, Pfizer, what's the news - we just want to talk to you," the seven protesters were ushered peacefully into a van by state and Groton City police as the Occupy group yelled, "The whole world is watching," harkening back to language of the 1970s peace movement.

One other protester, in an unchoreographed event later, was arrested for crossing police lines.

Changed with first-degree criminal trespass were: Alexander Suarez, 27, of Boston; Danielle A. Digirolamo, 23, of New Haven; Ashley M. Gillece, 25, of Stonington; Cassandra P. Johnson, 23, of Plainville; James D. Crombie, 45, of Coventry; Joshua D. Heltke, 28, of New Haven; Gregory A. Walker, 24, of New Haven; and Erin K. Mitchell, 22, of East Haven.

By early afternoon, the protesters had dispersed to conduct teach-ins at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London. Organizers opted against a protest in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London, where a controversial eminent-domain effort dislodged a neighborhood partly at Pfizer's behest, because they wanted to focus on what they see as illicit attempts by corporations to pass legislation with little public input.

"We'll be back," promised one of the protest organizers, Rebecca Burton of Manchester.

The full contingent numbered nearly 100 protesters, who marched around Pfizer's largest worldwide research site for most of the morning. The protest involved more than 90 cities nationwide.

"We need disclosure," Diane Hasz of Cromwell said. "We need to know that a corporation is part of that bill."

Protesters wearing Pfizer lab coats and walking with masks and signs represented a broad spectrum of ages and professions, including at least one former member of the military. The leaderless group spread its messages through periodic "mic checks" during which various members offered ideas for the next movement and then took "temperature checks" - essentially democratic votes - to determine the best course of action.

Pfizer's only response to the protest, which was mirrored at its corporate headquarters in Manhattan, was to issue the following statement: "For more than 150 years, Pfizer has been committed to being a good corporate citizen and our track record proves it."

Pfizer would not comment on why it wouldn't send a representative to talk with the Occupy protesters or what went into the decision to arrest them. Police, who numbered more than a dozen, said Pfizer made the call on whether they wanted to file the trespassing complaints.

Speakers outside Pfizer mentioned a litany of complaints about the multinational giant, which did more than $68 billion in business last year and ranked as the 31st largest corporation in the United States. Speakers cited the company's $2.3 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department to pay for illegal off-label marketing of its drugs, as well as concerns about tax abatements, layoffs and environmental issues.

"Pfizer went from the best company in southeastern Connecticut to the worst," Marc Frucht of New London said. "Guess who'll be gone from Connecticut in 10 years and not even care."

l.howard@theday.com

Members of the City of Groton Police Department prepare to place seven  protesters on a state police vehicle after they were arrested for refusing to leave the main gate of the Pfizer Research & Development facility in Groton on Wednesday.
Members of the City of Groton Police Department prepare to place seven protesters on a state police vehicle after they were arrested for refusing to leave the main gate of the Pfizer Research & Development facility in Groton on Wednesday. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo
Jennifer Drury of Hamden, front left, and fellow protesters from the Occupy movement chant slogans while watching seven of their fellow protesters being arrested at the main gate of the Pfizer Research & Development facility in Groton on Wednesday.
Jennifer Drury of Hamden, front left, and fellow protesters from the Occupy movement chant slogans while watching seven of their fellow protesters being arrested at the main gate of the Pfizer Research & Development facility in Groton on Wednesday. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo
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