Felony charges up ante for Dakota Access protesters

NEW SALEM, N.D. - Authorities upped the ante Wednesday, Sept. 14, in trying to discourage protesters from disrupting work on the Dakota Access Pipeline, pledging to pursue felony reckless endangerment charges against protesters who attach themsel...

NEW SALEM, N.D. – Authorities upped the ante Wednesday, Sept. 14, in trying to discourage protesters from disrupting work on the Dakota Access Pipeline, pledging to pursue felony reckless endangerment charges against protesters who attach themselves to construction equipment.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said the felony charge, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, reflects the seriousness of the crime. Protesters in similar situations were previously arrested on misdemeanor charges such as criminal trespass, preventing arrest and obstruction.

“Law enforcement officers are put in a dangerous situation when freeing these individuals. There is also a danger posed to DAPL, their workers and equipment along with the protesters putting themselves in a dangerous circumstance,” Kirchmeier said in a statement. “We continue to encourage people to protest in peaceful and lawful manners.”

Protesters temporarily halted construction of the pipeline for the second day in the row, leading to the arrest of eight people, including three who bound themselves to excavators and two who helped them, as efforts to stop the pipeline continued more than an hour away from the main protest camp just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Pipeline crews arriving for work Wednesday morning found protesters already at a construction site next to a farmyard just north of Interstate 94 about 8 miles west of New Salem, or about 35 miles west of Bismarck, Morton County spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said.


In addition to the five people arrested at the site, a person driving a van was stopped on County Road 86 and arrested for criminal facilitation after officers saw the van transporting protesters, Preskey said. Two other men walking in the area of a separate construction site also were arrested on trespassing and other charges.

The eight arrests brought the total number of people arrested to nearly 70 since protests started about a month ago, including 22 taken into custody Tuesday at a construction site near Glen Ullin, the most arrests in one day so far. All 22 are from outside of North Dakota.

Wednesday’s protest, which took place about 70 miles northwest of the main camp,  temporarily stopped construction on the north side of I-94, but digging continued on the south side.

Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren told employees in a memo released to media Tuesday that the 1,172-mile, $3.8 billion oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois is more than 60 percent complete and the company remains committed to completing it.

A federal judge sided with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and denied the tribe’s request for an injunction on Friday. But minutes later the Corps, Department of Justice and Department of Interior announced they would pause construction under the Missouri River until the Corps could determine whether it needs to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the river crossing permit.

Protesters appear in court Seven of the 22 arrested Tuesday pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Morton County District Court to misdemeanor charges stemming from Tuesday’s protest near Glen Ullin.

Attorney Chad Nodland said several are living at the main camp with plans to continue staying there.

Judge Thomas J. Schneider ordered $250 bail and no contact with Dakota Access equipment or personnel. Trial dates are set for Dec. 28.


Nodland, who represented the defendants for the initial appearance only, declined to comment following the hearing.

Later Wednesday, Morton County authorities said two men who attached themselves to equipment Tuesday will also be charged with felony reckless endangerment.

A statement from the Red Warrior Camp said those arrested included medics, media, legal observers and police liaisons.

Emergency funds sought Meanwhile, Gov. Jack Dalrymple continued to press federal officials and the state’s congressional delegation Wednesday for help in maintaining peace and order for the duration of the protest activities, spokesman Jeff Zent said.

The governor has said the federal government shares in the responsibility because of Friday’s decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Interior and Department of Justice to pause pipeline construction on Corps land north of the Standing Rock reservation.

Dalrymple said the state has spent about $1.8 million so far on law enforcement and other costs related to the pipeline protests, while Morton County has spent roughly $400,000.

Next Wednesday, the state’s Emergency Commission, which is chaired by Dalrymple, will consider a request from the Office of Adjutant General for special authority to borrow $6 million from the Bank of North Dakota to cover the cost of law enforcement support related to the protests, as authorized by Dalrymple’s emergency declaration Aug. 19.

If the request is approved, the Legislature will have to appropriate money from the state’s general fund to pay back the bank, Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp said.


Corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson said the agency is still reviewing an application from protesters seeking a permit to remain on the Corps land supporting the main campsite. She said she hopes to know more in the coming days.

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