‘Bogus charges’: Standing Rock activists say they face campaign of legal bullying/ Police blast Standing Rock protesters with water cannon and rubber bullets in Video
The Guardian – By Sam Levin/Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco – Wednesday 30 November 2016
In what appears to be a concerted effort to deter people from joining the Standing Rock protests, North Dakota officials are pursuing serious criminal charges and threatening to levy hefty fines against Native American activists.
Despite state and federal evacuation orders, a government roadblock, escalating police violence and aggressive prosecutions that attorneys say lack basic evidence, thousands of veterans are preparing to travel to Cannon Ball this weekend to support the growing movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.
Since the demonstrations against the $3.7bn oil project began in April, law enforcement have made more than 500 arrests, with state prosecutors filing serious charges, including rioting and conspiracy, against many of them.
Standing Rock protesters hold out against extraordinary police violence
The militarized police response, mass arrests and felony cases are part of what critics say is an unconstitutional strategy to silence and bully activists, who argue that the pipeline threatens the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water supply and sacred grounds.
“This is a way of harassing everybody,” said Ron His Horse Is Thunder, a member of the Hunkpapa-Lakota Oyate tribe, who was accused of conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion. “The message is ‘don’t bother going out on the frontlines or we are going to hit you with felonies.’”
In recent weeks, many of the state’s cases have unraveled in court with dismissals or rejections by a judge due to lack of evidence, further suggesting that prosecutors are more interested in intimidating activists than securing convictions.
The most serious accusation – attempted murder of law enforcement – was dismissed on Monday.
Police claimed that Red Fawn Fallis, a 37-year-old Native American woman, fired shots at officers during a protest in October, but her friends and family argued that police lacked evidence and were targeting a peaceful activist.
Law enforcement officials have not commented on the dismissal, except to note that Fallis has been transferred to federal court where she is now facing only a firearm possession charge.
Glenn Morris, Fallis’ uncle and a spokesman for the leadership council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, said the family was cautiously optimistic she would not face any murder charges moving forward.
“Although we don’t know what the reason was for Morton County to dismiss the charges, we would like to believe that it is because they had insufficient evidence to prove any of the charges.”
Separately, prosecutors levied blanket felony conspiracy by fire charges against 139 protesters swept up in a mass arrest on 27 October.
But state judge Cynthia Feland has thrown out the felony offenses against a number of the defendants, including His Horse Is Thunder.
In her decision, Feland emphasized that prosecutors lacked any evidence tying the individual defendants to the crimes. The fires were “set sporadically, at different locations, by different individuals, seemingly at random”, she wrote.
“It’s unusual to have cases with so little factual basis or evidence,” said Erica Shively, a local attorney representing four protesters whose charges were recently dropped.
Chad Nodland, another attorney who has represented Standing Rock activists, estimated that more than 130 people have had charges dropped, signaling the “unprecedented” nature of Morton County pursuing baseless cases.
“Normally when somebody is charged with a crime, there are facts alleged that relate to that crime,” he said. “There’s no evidence.”
Not only are the charges “specious”, said Angela Bibens, an attorney coordinating legal defense for the camps with the Water Protector Legal Collective, but arrested activists are frequently denied access to legal representation.
Bibens said that more than 100 protesters’ applications for a public defender were denied based on “pretty mundane administrative mistakes”.
One man, she said, was rejected after he answered a question about how many cars he owned with the word “none” rather than the numeral “0”.
In October, another judge also rejected riot charges against journalist Amy Goodman, who had filmed a confrontation between protesters and pipeline security officers.
Adding to the fears, police issued fresh threats this week about the enforcement of the governor’s evacuation order.
Law enforcement will issue fines of up to $1,000 to vehicles delivering supplies to the Standing Rock encampments, officials said Tuesday.
See video of Police blasting Standing Rock protesters with water cannon and rubber bullets:
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Posted by Teri PerticoneShare