North Dakota, (TFC)— Swaths of former Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters have been cleared of charges over the last month. Despite this, Morton County prosecutors forewarn that some may be recharged. These courtroom drama’s continue a saga of failed, controversial legal actions against activists, and water protectors.
According to Bismarck Tribune, charges against 33 former protesters were dismissed, mostly for criminal trespassing. An additional 14 cases, however, ended in guilty pleas while more may be pending.
One cornerstone aspect of the DAPL cases is a lack of evidence presented by prosecutors. In fact, retired judge Allen Schmalenberger discontinued one trial halfway through due to evidentiary issues. That wasn’t the first time DAPL activists were cleared due to the questionable arrests. The reservation itself–and whether state law applied on Sioux land–also helped shape the uniquely volatile situation.
In some cases, Schmalenberger ruled authorities didn’t adequately mark the land as private. No signs, notices, or official listings indicated the land was privately owned. This also bleeds into the overarching debate of whether DAPL’s corporation violated indigenous treaty rights. To be clear, this is a separate issue from whether state law applies on indigenous land.
Over 700 people were arrested by authorities including politicians, public figures, celebrities, and journalists. Among them, charges against Madison Wisconsin City Councilwoman Rebecca Kemble were dropped by Schmalenberger.
Kemble traveled to Standing Rock as a legal observer, as many others had. Her trip came as reports of illegal arrests, surveillance, searches, stalking and brutality dominated both mainstream and independent media. According to her attorney, she’d been arrested while attempting to leave and was accused of deleting evidence by turning off her camera.
Two class C felony’s, Bismarck Tribune reports, are among the 14 successful prosecutions. One water protector, Mason Redwing, was charged with reckless endangerment after allegedly riding his horse at officers. Numerous water protectors on horseback were filmed during the standoff by several media organizations. Brief interactions, including with Democracy Now, routinely indicated the riders wanted to protect their people.
Two others, Olivia Bias and Theresa Blackowl, were recharged with “physical obstruction of a government function”. In case you’re wondering, it’s likely the same as obstructing an officer.
Other activists were charged for chaining themselves to construction equipment, pleading guilty to reckless endangerment. Chaining oneself to equipment developed almost as a last ditch effort during DAPL’s final days. Officers conducting arrests, many deployed under an EMAC (Emergency Management Assistance Compact), were notably unprepared for these tactics. In Wisconsin, state police recommended more training in removing protesters from equipment in an after-action report.
Several high-profile detainees, including actress Shailene Woodley, were accused of engaging in a riot and disorderly conduct. “Engaging in a riot”, a popular charge in Morton County’s arsenal, was issued almost indiscriminately. Renowned journalist and host of Democracy Now Amy Goodman’s arrest warrant was also for the same charge. Goodman’s warrant came after he crew filmed DAPL contractors unleashing large attack dogs on water protectors.
One water protector continues to face charges after disarming an AR15-armed DAPL contractor. The contractor, Kyle Thompson, was spotted speeding down the highway towards a gathering of protesters. Activists noted Thompson, who was unidentified at the time, not only was armed but masked by a bandana. Protesters quickly surrounded Thompson, and peacefully confronted him at the river.
It’s been speculated that Thompson was attempting to pose as a violent protester to provoke action from onlooking police. Others suspect he was spying, though his high-key entrance suggests the first. Shortly after his arrest, however, Thompson stated he was armed to protect DAPL workers. Despite his claims, little to no context was provided as to why he acted he way he did that day.
Several DAPL workers were filmed with various weapons, from guns to–in one instance–a baseball bat. Some threatened or belittled protesters, particularly those of native descent, while others remained silent. Contractors who released dogs on activists were also later found to not have proper licensing.
DAPL spokespeople denied Kyle Thompson’s employment, or contracting, despite the DAPL security I.D card found on his persons. Whereas Thompson was released without charges, the man who de-escalated the rifle-wielder–Brennon Nastacio–still faces charges for “terrorizing”.
Nastacio’s case is, oddly enough, one of the quietest of those looming after the highly publicized standoff. Numerous sources have chronicled various denials by both DAPL’s corporation and Morton County in protecting officers and the company. This continues a persistent trend throughout Standing Rock’s resistance of controlling the narrative to win the war.
Wisconsin State Patrol’s EMAC after-action report highly recommended augmenting future camera and recording capabilities. It cited what officials called “propaganda” used to “make police look like agitators”, and ways to contain it. Wisconsin EMAC’s after-action recommended more cameras, video editing, live streaming, go pro’s, and anything else to ensure the police’s perspective dominates media.
This and dozens of credible reports of electronic surveillance and sabotage form the standoff’s essence. In cases like Nastacio’s, for authorities, the truth doesn’t appear to matter. If Thompon’s AR15 stunt got people hurt, would authorities still clear him?
It’s these things, particularly which call numerous incidents, like the burning of construction equipment, into question. How many events, such as arson and violence at DAPL, were orchestrated plants? Before you pull your “conspiracy theory” card, ask yourself what then was Thompson doing?
The standoff may be over, but it’s echo’s are still shaping the future or many. It’s unfortunate these proceedings, and their implications, aren’t attracting the media attention militarized shows of force did. Nevertheless, their conclusion’s ripples will reverberate just as vividly as the standoff has.