ICYMI: North Dakota Court Closes 47 Cases Relating to DAPL Protests

By Yessenia Funes Apr 24, 2017

In North Dakota, where most of the standoff against the Dakota Access Pipeline took place, law enforcement made 761 arrests total. Some of these arrestees faced misdemeanor charges, like criminal trespass, while others were charged with Class C felonies, like reckless endangerment to a police officer. In March, judges and prosecutors in the state’s South Central District Court closed 47 cases.

The Bismarck Tribune reported Friday (April 21) that the court dismissed 33 misdemeanor cases and resolved another 14 via guilty pleas. No felony charges were dropped.

Prosecutors found it difficult to prove that the Morton County State Attorney’s Office had made ample attempts to notify protestors who were demonstrating illegally on private property. This might have included sign postings indicating the land was private or a warning from an authorized person, according to The Bismarck Tribune.

After Judge Allan Schmalenberger canceled two trials due to lack of evidence, prosecutors sought motions to dismiss similar cases. Morton County Assistant State Attorney Brian Grosinger told The Bismarck Tribune that the office would try to prosecute some of the dismissed cases again.

Two cases the state is recharging are those of demonstrators Olivia Bias and Theresa Blackowl. Both originally faced trespass and riot charges. Now, the state is adding physically obstructing a government function, which means that the two pipeline opponents allegedly kept police from doing their job.

Their arrests took place on October 10, Indigenous People’s Day or “Columbus Day”—the same day actress Shailene Woodley (“Big Little Lies”) and 26 others were arrested. Two people also attached themselves to construction equipment that day. At least 100 sheriffs’ deputies and state troopers in riot gear confronted them.

Woodley was one of the arrestees who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. She had to pay $500 in fines and faces a deferred sentence, meaning she will not go to jail if she avoids crime for the next year.

It has taken North Dakota courts months to get these trials going. The courts were backlogged due to the massive number of arrests made during the height of #NoDAPL action—so much so that the state’s Supreme Court deemed it an “emergency affecting the legal system of North Dakota,” in a ruling it made in January relating to the arrests. That ruling allowed out-of-state attorneys to represent water protectors due to the state’s inability to provide adequate public representation in a timely fashion.

Now, the pipeline’s construction is complete. Though water protectors spent months camped near the the DAPL route in North Dakota, President Donald Trump steamrolled its construction in one of his first executive orders.

(H/t The Bismarck Tribune)