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Officer points gun at protester as Dakota Access pipeline clashes continue

Nearly 100 people have been arrested since protests began.

Native American tribes protesting in North Dakota. CREDIT: FLICKR/Joe Brusky
Native American tribes protesting in North Dakota. CREDIT: FLICKR/Joe Brusky

An officer drew his weapon and several people were arrested as confrontations over the proposed Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota continue this week. A protester on horseback allegedly charged at the officer, who viewed it as an act of aggression, authorities said Wednesday.

The gun was carrying bean-bag rounds, which is less-lethal ammunition designed to incapacitate, according to a Morton County Sheriff’s Department press release. The incident took place as law enforcement went on to arrest 21 protesters at two construction sites near St. Anthony, a town some 30 miles northwest of where the main Native American protesters are based.

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Law enforcement responded to the protests with specialized equipment and weapons, including armored vehicles. Protesters were arrested for allegedly resisting arrest, trespassing private property, and possession of stolen property.

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“Officers are trained to respond to the threats they perceive and to take appropriate action. A charging horse combined with totality of the situation presented an imminent threat to the officer,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, in the release.

In similar situations in the past, some Native Americans have said “charging” is the traditional Sioux way of introducing horses. Native American protesters — who call themselves protectors — have meanwhile maintained that demonstrations are peaceful.

So far, 95 people have been arrested for protest activities since the start of the Dakota Access pipeline protests, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

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The Dakota Access pipeline — a 1,172-mile project — would move more than half a million barrels of crude oil per day through the Dakotas, Iowa, and into a hub in Illinois. For months Standing Rock Sioux Tribe members have protested construction sites, in part because of the risk of a spill into the Missouri River — the longest river in North America and the tribe’s sole water supply.

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Construction on federal land in North Dakota has been halted following a court order and an Obama administration request, but the company is able to continue on private and state land the project mostly covers.

In the meantime, protests in North Dakota have turned violent. Earlier this month, a Dakota Access construction crew bulldozed alleged sacred sites, and shortly after, protesters clashed with private security officers hired by the company — who reportedly confronted protesters with dogs and pepper spray. Injuries were reported on both sides.

The most recent set of arrests took place days after Dakota Access, a developing arm of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, bought more than 6,000 acres of a ranch adjacent to the project’s route. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told Dakota Access earlier this week the company has 30 days to explain how it intends to use the land.

The land purchased includes the area where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe alleges Dakota Access bulldozed sacred sites, the Dickinson Press reported. With some exceptions, North Dakota anti-corporate farming law prohibits corporations, and limited liability companies like Dakota Access, from owning or leasing agricultural land, and to practice farming or ranching.