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The Daily Wildcat

 

Aid worker to face second hearing for littering charges

A map of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which UA alum and volunteer with No More Deaths Walt Staton is convicted of littering full water bottles for border crossers in.
A map of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which UA alum and volunteer with No More Deaths Walt Staton is convicted of littering full water bottles for border crossers in.

What is trash? To the government, water jugs. To Walt Staton, it’s being criminally convicted for humanitarian work.

UA alumnus and former Daily Wildcat employee Walt Staton faces jail time for refusing to complete community service hours for a littering conviction, insisting that placing water jugs along migrant trails is not littering.

On Aug. 11, Staton was convicted in federal court of “”knowingly littering”” after leaving unopened jugs of water along migrant trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. He was sentenced to 300 hours of picking up trash and one year unsupervised probation.

At Staton’s resentencing hearing on Friday, Magistrate Jennifer Guerin denied his motion to modify or suspend his sentence, and scheduled a probation violation hearing for Dec. 21. Staton could serve up to 25 days in prison, or two hours for every community service hour not completed.

Staton is a volunteer for the group No More Deaths, which supports humanitarian work along the border.

In a Nov. 2 letter, Staton told Guerin that he would not be completing the hours of community service.

“”I do not believe the federal statute regarding littering is unjust, and I do not wish to challenge or change that law,”” Staton said in the letter. “”(M)y decision to place sealed gallon jugs of water along trails used by migrants to cross remote areas of the Sonoran desert should be understood as an attempt on my part to uphold international human rights law, specifically the right to life.””

While in court, Staton told Judge Guerin that by not completing the community service, he was taking a stand for human rights workers everywhere.

“”In order for humanitarian workers to do the work that they do, we cannot have fear of punishments from the government,”” he said.

Defense attorney Bill Walker said Staton, a seminary student at Claremont School of Theology, did not object to the 300 hours of community service, but rather what they represented.

“”It would be an admission on his part that he has done something wrong,”” Walker said. “”He is willing to do community service; he has devoted his life to it.””

The prosecution pointed out that immediately after Staton was charged in August, he said he was happy to pick up trash as part of his sentencing.

“”The defendant has changed his moral value over three months,”” the prosecution said.

Judge Guerin stated that the reasons for putting down the water were irrelevant to the hearing.

“”Despite your good intentions, the jury found you guilty of littering,”” she said, addressing Staton.

Judge Guerin said Staton was inconsistent with his willingness to perform services for the community.

“”I have difficulty with statements that he will not provide the service that he is willing to complete outside of the court sentences,”” she said.

The upcoming trial on Dec. 21 will address Staton allegedly disregarding court orders and violating probation, Guerin said.

After the hearing, Staton said he was willing to serve possible jail time.

“”I’m ready to continue this,”” he said. “”The United States needs to see that there are people here who are committed to humanitarian work and human rights work, and if we don’t stand up for it here, how can we expect people to stand up for it in other parts of the world?””

Staton addressed supporters outside the federal courthouse after the hearing.

“”I think we all have to keep up this work. I’m so grateful that there’s so much support here. I know we’re not backing down — I’m not backing down,”” he said.

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