Dakota Access protesters say they were held in ‘dog kennels’ following mass arrests

Amnesty International has sent observers to monitor law enforcement.

Law enforcement arrest a protester at a Dakota Access pipeline protest. CREDIT: Facebook/Rob Wilson
Law enforcement arrest a protester at a Dakota Access pipeline protest. CREDIT: Facebook/Rob Wilson

As violent clashes over the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline continue, allegations of abuse at the hands of law enforcement officials keep mounting. Native American activists arrested during the violent clearing of a protest camp last week say they were kept in “dog kennels.”

“We were caged in dog kennels, sat on the floor, and we were marked with numbers,” said Floris White Bull, in a YouTube video posted Saturday. As she wiped tears from her face, she said the cages were placed in the garage at the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. “This is happening today, this isn’t something that we are reading in history books.”

On Thursday, 141 people were arrested after armed law enforcement from at least six states used sirens, pepper spray, and bean bag shots to clear a protest camp placed on the private land where Dakota Access, a developing company, is building the 1,172-mile pipeline. The North Dakota National Guard and the company’s private security were also involved in the clearing of protesters.

Injuries were reported on both sides while activists said several protesters suffered broken bones. All of the protesters have been bailed out, thanks to an anonymous donor who paid $2.5 million for their release late Saturday, News On 6 reported.

Authorities allege protesters threw Molotov cocktails, set blockades on fire, and claimed one activist shot at deputies as she was being arrested. Protesters dispute many of the claims, including the report of the alleged shooting. Some news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, said protesters remained peaceful during Thursday’s confrontation.

Protesters on Friday also said they were held without bedding or furniture.

Amnesty International USA said it sent a delegation of human rights observers to monitor the law enforcement response to protests. In a letter submitted to Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the agency said Friday it was concerned about the degree of force used.

Morton County Sheriff’s Department said over the weekend that “temporary holding cells (chain link fences) have been installed into the Morton County Correctional Center and are used for ‘mass arrest’ situations only.” In a statement to Fox News, authorities said the holding cells were used only temporarily until people could get processed or transferred to another facility in North Dakota.

“The temporary housing units have been inspected and approved by the [North Dakota] Department of Corrections which has oversight over all county correctional centers,” the statement reads.

Morton County Correctional Center has room for only 42 inmates, authorities said, meaning arrangements must be made to transport people to other jails. Authorities have long said that Morton, a rural county of roughly 30,000 people, lacked the resources to handle the influx of thousands of Native Americans and other activists who have come from all corners of the country to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

North Dakota has in turn used the 1996 Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which allows states to send law enforcement and other employees when a governor declares a state of emergency. A handful of states responded to the call, but at least one Wisconsin sheriff’s department received push-back from the community and brought its deputies back earlier this month.

On Saturday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe decried law enforcement tactics, noting 40 activists were injured. “It’s wrong to use that kind of force on our people,” Dave Archambault II, the tribe’s chairman, said. Archambault, who last week urged the Justice Department to investigate police activity against protesters, said the tribe is also considering a lawsuit against the state law enforcement.

CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS/THINKPROGRESS
CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS/THINKPROGRESS

Meanwhile, Dakota Access is mostly done with the project, which will transport more than 500,000 barrels of fracked crude oil daily through the Dakotas and Iowa, before reaching a hub in Illinois. The company has started construction on the private land that was cleared Thursday, according to the tribe.

Construction is happening some two miles from water as the project is set to cross the Missouri River, the longest river in North America, which also borders Standing Rock Sioux Tribe land. The tribe fears a spill would poison the river, its sole water supply.

The pipeline is yet to receive federal permits to cross the Missouri River, and while the Obama Administration has asked the company to halt construction within 20 miles of the easement as it reviews the permits, the company has declined the request.