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Judge axes restraining order against pipeline protesters but blasts unlawful activity

BISMARCK - A federal judge in North Dakota has tossed a restraining order against Dakota Access Pipeline protesters but had harsh words for unlawful and violent protesters who "constitute a very small percentage of the entire entourage."...

BISMARCK – A federal judge in North Dakota has tossed a restraining order against Dakota Access Pipeline protesters but had harsh words for unlawful and violent protesters who “constitute a very small percentage of the entire entourage.”

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland on Friday dissolved a temporary restraining order against Standing Rock Sioux Tribal officials, including Chairman Dave Archambault II, and others that Dakota Access had sued in federal court.

Dakota Access sought and received a temporary restraining order against seven named defendants and unidentified protesters the pipeline company alleged had “engaged in increasingly obstructionist and dangerous behavior” to prevent pipeline construction.

The restraining order issued on Aug. 16 prohibited Archambault, tribal council member Dana Yellow Fat and other defendants from unlawfully interfering with pipeline construction.

But Hovland wrote Friday, Sept. 16, that an order preventing criminal misconduct “would serve no legitimate purpose” because the protesters already face criminal charges if they engage in unlawful protest activities.

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Attorney Tim Purdon, who represents Archambault and Yellow Fat, said they’re pleased with the court’s ruling. In a motion to dismiss filed Thursday, Purdon wrote that neither tribal official condones anything other that peaceful opposition to the pipeline, which is protected by the First Amendment.

“Chairman Archambault has really been the voice calling to make sure the protest themselves remain peaceful,” Purdon said Friday.

Jennifer Cook, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, called the restraining order an “attempt to silence and intimidate the public’s free speech rights.”

Cook said her client, Jonathan Edwards, has stayed away from protest areas due to the order. He is accused of chaining himself to a fence to halt pipeline construction.

“This is a day where he can absolutely choose to attend and peacefully protest if he chooses,” Cook said. “Today free speech won.”

Hovland wrote that suggesting the protests have been entirely peaceful and prayerful “is less than forthright and ludicrous at best,” citing examples of vandalism to equipment, trespassing, obstruction to pipeline work and verbal taunts or harassment directed at law enforcement.

“Nearly every day the citizens of North Dakota are inundated with images of ‘peaceful’ protesters engaging in mindless and senseless criminal mayhem,” Hovland wrote.

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Hovland added that he recognizes many of the troublesome protesters are from out of state and have political interests or hidden agendas different than the legitimate interests of Native Americans and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who are affected by the pipeline.

Nearly 70 people have been arrested in connection with protest activities, including seven who are facing felony charges.

“It is clear the criminal justice system is currently addressing, and will continue to address, the mindless and senseless criminal activity of the hooligans that choose to accompany the protest movement,” Hovland wrote.

Cook said it’s important to differentiate between acts of trespassing and civil disobedience and acts of violence.

“While civil trespass may be unlawful, it is not inherently violent,” Cook said. “Conflating civil, peaceful disobedience with actual violence is a misstatement.”

A hearing scheduled for next week in the case has been canceled. Hovland has not ruled on a motion to dismiss the overall lawsuit.

Purdon said the underlying lawsuit starts from the premise that the Dakota Access Pipeline has all of the permits needed to construct under the Missouri River north of the Standing Rock reservation. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week it will not authorize construction on Corps land in that area until further evaluation.

“Right now, they don’t have that right under the current set of facts, so the case should be dismissed,” Purdon said.

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The Bismarck Police Department received reports Thursday of two vehicles and a cargo trailer being vandalized with yellow spray paint with the letters #NODAPL, the social media hashtag short for “No Dakota Access Pipeline,” Sgt. Mark Buschena said Friday. The trailer and a work truck were owned by a resurfacing business and a rental business, respectively, while a pickup truck was vandalized outside a residence, he said.

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