First trial connected to Dakota Access Pipeline protests starts today
posted at 1:01 pm on December 19, 2016 by John Sexton
Ten Dakota Access Pipeline protesters who were arrested in August will go on trial today. This is the first trial resulting from protests against the pipeline in North Dakota. The Bismark Tribune reports:
The defendants are charged with with disorderly conduct, a B misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and $1,500 in fines. An affidavit filed with the complaint accuses the defendants of pushing through law enforcement lines or police tape to access the work site. Erickson suggests in court documents that, if convicted, the state would seek $1,000 from each defendant to repay law enforcement costs.
The defense sought to have the charges against the protesters dismissed but Judge Cynthia Feland denied that request:
“The court recognizes that the First Amendment gives the public a right to voice their concerns, to protest lawfully, to criticize the police and even to yell profanities at police officers, Feland wrote in her order.
“Under the facts alleged, rather than obeying the orders of law enforcement and conducting the protest in a peaceful and lawful manner, the defendant directly disobeyed law enforcement and deliberately crossed into undesignated areas, creating a hazardous and alarming condition for both law enforcement officers and Dakota Access construction workers,” she wrote.
Because of the intense public interest in the case the court has created a jury pool of 65 people, from which 6 jurors will be selected. In all, 571 protesters have been arrested at the Standing Rock protest site. Sixteen more people arrested in connection with the protests have trials set for this week.
Most of the protesters cleared out of the camp after the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant the developer an easement to complete the final mile of the pipeline. That decision coincided with a dangerous blizzard which forced most people at the camp to seek shelter in a nearby casino. Reuters reports only a few hundred die hard protesters remain:
After the Corps decision, Standing Rock chairman Dave Archambault asked protesters to go home. The camp’s population now runs from 700 to 1,000, depending on the day, and many come from the nearby Standing Rock reservation where they live.
The camp was created by so-called “water protectors” who are concerned the pipeline could rupture and pollute the water supply. Ironically, the camp itself is now being considered a pollution threat to the nearby river:
Because the Oceti Sakowin camp is located on a flood plain, waste from the camp poses risks to the nearby Cannonball River. Tribal leaders have said the camp may need to move if it wants to remain active. Begay said the structures can be “disassembled like a puzzle in two hours” and re-established on drier ground.
The incoming Trump administration is expected to try to approve the easement that would allow completion of the pipeline. However a reversal of the current decision, which was made by an Obama political appointee, would be subject to legal challenge.