About 250 people protesting Halliburton's involvement in Iraq marched, danced and screamed Wednesday around the downtown hotel where the Houston company's annual shareholder meeting was being held.
The meeting was a prime target for anti-war protesters, who've turned out for past Halliburton annual meetings.
Police arrested 15 protesters, including seven who dressed in business attire, sneaked into the Four Seasons hotel and formed human chains to block entry to the meeting. This year's crowd was a little smaller than last year's, but police said it was more aggressive.
The rowdy protests provided a stark contrast to the quiet meeting inside in which shareholders approved a resolution to cap severance pay for senior executives at three times their annual salary plus bonus.
Chief Executive Dave Lesar's contract calls for the company to pay him five times his base salary and some benefits if he's terminated for any reason other than cause. Halliburton raised Lesar's salary 5 percent to $1.26 million last year.
Other top executives would get a severance payment equal to two years of base salary under such circumstances, according to the stockholder proposal.
The company has taken that nonbinding resolution under consideration, a spokeswoman said. It opposed the proposal, saying it would make it harder to attract and retain highly qualified senior executives.
A proposal that directors be elected by a majority vote was not approved.
Media are shut out
The media were barred from entering the meeting, where shareholders also elected directors and decided to retain the company's auditor.
Halliburton, the world's largest oil-field contractor, attracts protesters because it has thousands of employees and subcontractors working in Iraq. The company has drawn scrutiny from the government as investigators examine allegations of overbilling.
Lesar told reporters after the meeting that the company is still evaluating a contract to rebuild southern Iraq's oil industry. As for its larger contract to provide meals, shelter and other support to the troops, he said, "We are committed to see that contract through."
The company also continues to examine when would be a good time to sell or spin off its subsidiary KBR, he said.
Plenty of noise
Protesters brought whistles, conchs and a variety of homemade noisemakers. The roughest confrontation came as clusters of protesters ignored orders by officers to stay off the streets and behind blockades and swarmed around some of the police horses.
The horses performed as trained by circling with their back feet, sometimes knocking protesters out of the way with their haunches. Protesters yelled "Shame on you!" at the officers.
Three officers were punched or kicked, but no one was seriously injured, according to Lt. Robert Manzo of the Houston Police Department.
Charges against the protesters, who were taken to the city jail, included evading arrest, trespassing, assaulting officers and assaulting a police horse.
Protesters said police used unreasonable force. Nursing her foot with an ice pack, Dallas resident Cynthia Daly said a horse ridden by a mounted officer stepped on her.
Keith Koski, a 46-year-old Houston resident who dressed as Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Halliburton CEO, said they are going to keep coming.
"I think it's a shame we have to be here this year, but we'll keep coming back as long as Halliburton is illegally profiteering from the war in Iraq," he said, standing in front of a cow labeled "Iraq war," which he milked during the demonstration.
The company offered a written jab in response.
"Halliburton supports the rights of protesters," the company said in a prepared statement. "Even if they don't have the facts right, they have a right to speak up."
At least 30 mounted police officers and dozens more on foot worked to control the crowd of mostly young people, who shouted anti-war and anti-Halliburton chants and threw an occasional bottle.
Ex-driver part of lawsuit
Activist group Houston Global Awareness helped organize the protests and held five days of activities leading up to the meeting, including a news conference Tuesday at which a former Halliburton truck driver spoke about an attack on his convoy when he was delivering fuel to the military.
Ray Stannard of El Paso is one of many plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging Halliburton intentionally sent his convoy in U.S. military camouflaged vehicles on a route it knew would come under attack. The company did so, the lawsuit alleges, to create a decoy as another fuel convoy using civilian vehicles took another route to help the company meet its daily fuel delivery quota.
"They sent us into a war zone," he said. "We should never have been out there."
A Halliburton spokeswoman said the company doesn't comment on ongoing litigation.
So far, 68 of Halliburton's employees and subcontractors have been killed in attacks in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
- 174 War & Disaster Profiteers Campaign