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Tree-Sitting Protesters Arrested

May 26, 2000

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ Three people who protested plans for a shopping center by occupying a huge oak tree slated to be cut down now face criminal charges.

Mary Lightheart, 53, was arrested Thursday evening. Police later arrested Ronald Pursley, 37, and Stephanie Watkins, 34, who had joined Lightheart on Wednesday, three weeks into her protest.

Lightheart first climbed an oak tree on the site of the planned Steele Crossing Shopping Center on May 3, moving to another tree a few days later. A platform covered by a tarp was put up as a makeshift shelter.

Lightheart was arrested Thursday when she tried to return to the tree, then occupied by Pursley and Watkins, after an appointment elsewhere. Witnesses said she tried to flee when police approached her and was chased by five or six officers.

Later Thursday evening, police and a rescue squad used a ladder truck to remove Pursley and Watkins from the tree. The three face trespassing and other charges.

Earlier in the week, more than a dozen people who went to the site as a show of support were arrested. The protesters say the project violates tree preservation standards established by a 1993 tree ordinance. Developers say they will save nearly half of the 200 trees on the site.

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