MORTON COUNTY, N.D. - A standoff between law enforcement officers and Dakota Access Pipeline protesters continued Friday afternoon on a bridge between the protesters’ main camp and the north camp that authorities forced them to leave during a tumultuous and tense confrontation one day earlier.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said in an update just before 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, that the officers were holding a line north of the Backwater Bridge.
The bridge and State Highway 1806 remained closed because of debris and damage to the bridge resulting from multiple fires set by protesters, and the bridge must undergo a safety evaluation before it reopens, the department said in a news release.
Camp representatives have been working with authorities to disperse protesters gathered on the bridge, the department said, noting protesters have been “non-confrontational but uncooperative” in responding to authorities’ requests.
Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier asked that protesters remain at the main Oceti Sakowin camp, and he thanked members of both the camp and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for helping to de-escalate the bridge situation.
So far, nine vehicles, including two military-style trucks next to the bridge, have been torched, in addition to construction equipment and debris, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Two officers received minor injuries after they were hit by logs and other debris.
At a late Friday afternoon press conference, a North Dakota Stockmen’s Association news release said two new cases of dead animals were discovered today. “One case involves four butchered bison,” the release said. “The other case involves two cows that were killed and then burned.”
The animals belong to two different owners, the release said.
Aaron Johnson, who lives in Cannon Ball and is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, prayed near the burned trucks Friday.
“I was praying for the destruction to stop,” Johnson said, adding a few young people who are not Standing Rock Sioux members instigated the aggressive acts.
“I’m not here for violence. I’m here for peace and prayer,” he said. “It makes me want to cry.”
A women from Minnesota’s Red Lake Nation picked up litter strewn along the ground near the bridge.
“They’re probably working over there and we’re stuck over here,” said the woman, whose spirit name is Stars On Stone. Her belongings and teepee were at the frontline, or northernmost, camp.
After North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents cleared the frontline camp of any potential lingering threats and processed the scene, it was turned over to the sheriff’s department.
Kirchmeier reached out to tribal representatives and has allowed them to be escorted into the north camp to respectfully remove the teepees, the news release said.
“This is a great example of communication, collaboration and cooperation,” he said.
More than 60 vehicles parked on private property and Highway 1806 have been towed, and an additional person was arrested Friday, bringing the total to 142 since noon Thursday.
On Friday, an excavator dug next to Highway 1806 as construction continued on the pipeline toward Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit for the lake crossing but is withholding the easement pending further review.
The scene Friday followed a chaotic confrontation Thursday, which included claims of unruly tactics by both sides.
Officers faced a barrage of homemade explosives, rocks, logs, bottles and debris thrown by protesters. In return, law enforcement in riot gear arrested 141 people, deployed pepper spray and non-lethal deterrents - including batons, bean bag and sponge rounds and loud noise devices - in an effort to sweep the camps and roadblocks.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department postponed a 2 p.m. news conference and said they might not hold one at all on Friday.
Earlier in the day, the Indigenous Environmental Network said “water protectors” acted quickly to stop a Dakota Access Pipeline private security guard carrying an automatic rifle heading towards camp but who attempted to leave in a pickup.
“One protector stopped the assailant’s vehicle with their own before the security guard fled to nearby waters, weapon in hand,” the group said in a news release. “Bureau of Indian Affairs police arrived on scene and apprehended him.”
Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, said in an email late Friday morning that the BIA “received a report of a man shooting a firearm” and responded because state and county officers were busy.
BIA officers arrested the man, who was taken into FBI custody. The case has been transferred to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Darling said in an email.
More than 11 weeks of protest activity reached a flashpoint when officers attempted to clear a roadblock set up by protesters on Highway 1806 before moving to the recently established frontline camp directly in the path of the $3.8 billion pipeline. The sides also squared off at a nearby county bridge, where burning logs, tires and vehicles kept law enforcement at bay for hours.
Of the 141 arrests on Thursday, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said most of the protesters faced charges for conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion, engaging in a riot and maintaining a public nuisance. Seven people were arrested for reckless endangerment after using “sleeping dragon devices” to attach themselves to items.
About noon Thursday, authorities issued a final warning and urged everyone to move back to their main camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land that the agency is letting protesters use to exercise their free speech rights.
But protesters determined to be the last line of defense between the pipeline and the Missouri River stood their ground on the highway and at the new camp, which sits on Dakota Access-owned land that tribal members say was never ceded after the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty.
For a time Thursday, pipeline construction continued as the hectic scene unfolded in the surrounding hills.
As officers on foot spanning the highway and ditches slowly pushed the crowd back, pipeline crews worked steadily in view of the protest in the same area where protesters clashed with security guards and dogs on Sept. 3.
The Justice Department recently reiterated its call for Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, to voluntarily pause construction of the four-state, 1,172-mile pipeline within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, but the company has not complied. The area where crews worked Thursday is the same area the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says contains burial grounds and sacred sites, but the state archaeologist surveyed the area and disagreed.
In its statement Friday, the Indigenous Environmental Network said more than 300 police officers “violently cleared” the camp, using eight ATVs, five armored vehicles, two helicopters and several Humvees. They also reported officers used percussion grenades and shotguns with non-lethal ammunition.
“At least one person was Tased and the barbed hook lodged in his face, just below his eye,” the statement said. “Another was hit in the face by a rubber bullet.”
The group said a prayer circle was interrupted, with the participants arrested, and a tipi erected in the road was “recklessly dismantled.” Several other injuries were reported, including:
At least six members of the youth council said they had been pepper sprayed, up to five times, and were shot with bean bag round.
Two medics giving aid at front line were hit with batons and thrown off the car they were sitting on. Police grabbed another medic who was driving a car out of the driver side while it was still in motion. Another water protector had to jump into the car to stop it from hitting other people.
Members of the horse nation herded around 100 buffalo from the west and southwest of the Cannonball Ranch onto the the DAPL easement. One rider was reportedly hit with up to four rubber bullets his horse was reported to be hit in the legs by live rounds. Another horse was shot and did not survive.
“I went to the frontline in prayer for protection of the Missouri River and found myself in what I can only describe as a war zone,” Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in the news release. “I'm still in shock and keep waiting to wake from what's surely a nightmare though this is my reality as a native woman in 2016 trying to defend the sacred.”
Kirchmeier said he was proud of the officers, saying they “responded with patience and professionalism and showed continuous restraint throughout the entire event.”
Law enforcement reported two instances of shots being fired, including one in which a woman who was being arrested along the front line on Highway 1806 pulled a .38-caliber revolver and fired three shots near officers before being taken into custody.
The MAIN Coalition, a labor group, denounced the protests in a statement Friday and thanked law enforcement for their efforts.
“The people of North Dakota and the skilled laborers along the Dakota Access pipeline have the right to live and work in a safe and harassment-free environment,” MAIN spokesman Craig Stevens said in the release.
The group also blamed President Obama’s administration for delays in an approximately 1,100-foot pipeline easement under the Missouri River, which “already has at least eight pipelines crossing north of this site.”
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who sent a joint letter with the governors of South Dakota and Iowa this week pressing the Corps to approve the easement, also said in a statement Friday that law enforcement officers have done “an outstanding job” dealing with the prolonged protest. Dalrymple thanked officers from North Dakota as well as those from assisting states, which have included South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Indiana and Nebraska.
“We cannot allow state highways and county roadways to be taken over by out-of-state agitators, and we cannot allow them to trespass on private property,” Dalrymple said. “There is no choice but to enforce the law.”
Watchdog group Amnesty International USA said Friday it has sent a delegation of human rights observers to monitor law enforcement’s response to the protests and also sent a letter to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department expressing concern about the degree of force used against the protest. The organization said it also will call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, as Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II has done.
Amnesty International USA previously sent observers to the area in August.
“We’re deeply concerned about what we heard during our previous visit to Standing Rock and what has been reported to us since,” spokesman Eric Ferrero said in a news release.