Rappelling protesters touch down during Carolina Panthers game
The Carolina Panthers said they are reviewing the events surrounding an incident in which two individuals rappelled down Bank of America Stadium during Monday’s football game to protest the bank’s financing of a company building a natural gas facility.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police charged four people on three misdemeanor charges after the protest, and the department said its investigation is ongoing.
Among the many questions left unanswered Tuesday were how the protesters got the rappelling equipment into the stadium, and whether the stadium will implement any additional security measures as a result.
“We’re always concerned if people can bring in something that could disrupt the game,” Panthers security chief Lance Emory said Tuesday. “Was it a bomb? No. Did anybody get hurt? Thank God, no. Those are our first considerations, but sure, it’s concerning.”
Emory said the protesters entered the stadium with legitimate tickets in the upper deck. He added that his team still has to review the surveillance tapes, and that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have collected the rappelling gear as evidence.
The police department deferred questions to stadium officials regarding security measures and any changes they may make. Emory said the stadium will re-emphasize training and execution of its entry procedures but couldn’t say whether that will result in longer waiting lines.
“NFL security is reviewing with the club all aspects of the incident to understand what happened,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications.
McCarthy also deferred to the Panthers when asked how many people were moved out of the way as the two protesters descended from the upper level. One spectator said several rows of people were told by police officers or security to move from their seats and were up for almost the entire third quarter.
It’s still unclear how many people were temporarily displaced, and whether they will be reimbursed for their tickets. “We are in conversation with those who were inconvenienced,” said Panthers spokesman Steve Drummond.
Bank of America Stadium has been a target for protests in the past. In 2012, members of the Rainforest Action Network, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve rainforests, hung a banner reading “Bank of Coal” on Bank of America Stadium, before the bank’s annual meeting of shareholders. Five members of the group were arrested.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the organization whose members were involved in the protest Monday said on Tuesday that the demonstration was a success.
“We’ve gotten a fantastic amount of press,” said Kelly Canavan, spokeswoman for We Are Cove Point, which is opposed to the planned liquefied natural gas export facility in Cove Point, Md. “I think it went really fantastically well, and there’s not something I can think of that I would do differently.”
The protest, which occurred during the third quarter of Monday’s game between the Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts, drew national attention. A male and female protester suspended themselves from the upper deck and dropped a banner that read “BoA: Dump Dominion, WeAreCovePoint.org” – a reference to Bank of America and Dominion Resources, which is building the natural gas facility.
A spokesperson for the Charlotte-based BofA did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Dominion said its relationship with Bank of America is “not project specific, but for broader corporate purposes.” Dominion said the project, 47 percent complete, has received approvals after undergoing “rigorous review on the federal, state and county levels.”
Police arrested the rappellers and two other protesters on Monday. All face the same misdemeanors charges: second-degree trespass, resisting a public officer and throwing or dropping objects at a sporting event. All four were given $1,500 bails.
Two of the protesters, Erica Madrid, 38, of Washington, D.C., and Angela Vogel, also 38, of Philadelphia, Pa., were released from jail early Tuesday, Canavan said at about 1 p.m.
Meanwhile, David Baghdadi, 38, of Hot Springs, N.C., and John Nicholson, 29, of Lewisburg, Pa., were expected to be released soon, Canavan said.
In an interview with the Observer, Madrid declined to say how the group got the rappelling equipment into the stadium. “That’s something I’m not really excited to talk about,” she said.
But Madrid told WSOC-TV that the protesters passed through security with the equipment.
More important, Madrid said, is that the group got its message and website out to 70,000 people in the stadium, including that Bank of America is financing acompany whose project that could harm Cove Point. “We’ve heard of people canceling their Bank of America accounts” as a result of the group’s action, Madrid said.
She said liquefied natural gas is so volatile that it could “vaporize” a 2-mile area around Cove Point.
Canavan said Nicholson is interested in helping people who are negatively impacted by fracking, a process in which liquid is injected into the ground at high pressure to extract oil or gas. Baghdadi and Vogel share concerns about potential negative impacts that fracking and similar industries have on communities, Canavan said.
Canavan said the point of Monday’s demonstration was to call attention to Bank of America’s financing of the project during a nationally televised event and push the bank to stop funding it.
“There was nothing specific about the match-up,” she said. “It had nothing to do with feelings about one team or another. It was just an attempt to get a national audience.”
Some of the protesters have criminal records from separate incidents. Baghdadi was given a year’s probation in January after pleading guilty to first-degree misdemeanor criminal trespass involving a protest in Connecticut, court records show.
Nicholson pleaded guilty to theft and damage to property in 2005, records show. His sentencing information on those pleas was unavailable.
In March 2014, Nicholson was among five members of the Marcellus Shale Earth First group arrested during a protest in central Pennsylvania. Police said the protesters refused to stop blocking a road leading to natural gas well pads, according to the news website PennLive.com.
Madrid and Vogel have no known criminal records. Staff writers Joe Person, Jonathan Jones, Maria David and Rick Rothacker contributed.