On November 28th, the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC-formerly Red Owl), an initiative of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), filed suit in US District Court against Morton County, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirschmeier, and other law enforcement agencies for using excessive force against peaceful Water Protectors on the night of November 20, 2016.
The class action suit, filed on behalf of persons who were injured on the night of November 20 and early morning of November 21, seeks an immediate injunction preventing the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement from using impact munitions such as rubber bullets and lead-filled “beanbags,” water cannons and hoses, explosive teargas grenades and other chemical agents against protesters.
Beginning on the evening of November 20, officers from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and assisting agencies confronted peaceful Water Protectors at a bridge near the Standing Rock protest camp and within the boundaries of Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires, or Great Sioux Nation) treaty lands. Without giving any warnings or opportunity to disperse, officers fired on them with highly dangerous munitions, chemical agents, a water cannon and hoses in freezing weather. More than 200 Water Protectors were injured.
“The Morton County Sheriff’s office not only violates the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters, but their actions highlight the long history of abuse against Indigenous peoples,” said Brandy Toelupe, WPLC lawyer. “From the beginning, governments have used their latest technologies to take land and resources from Native nations and oppress Indigenous peoples. Sheriff Kirchmeier’s actions make it clear that nothing has changed,” she added.
The complaint describes the excessive force with which the eight class representatives were met while peacefully protesting. Four are Native, including two members of the Lakota nation. Jade Kalikolehuaokakalani Wool had two grenades blow up near her head, knocking her down, burning her face and sending shrapnel into it, and causing her to be hospitalized. Crystal Wilson was shot with a water cannon, tear gassed and shot with a munition. David Demo was filming police when, without warning, they shot him with a water cannon and then in the hand with a munition. He was hospitalized with broken bones and was told he would need reconstructive surgery. Gary Dullknife III saw a Water Protector knocked to the ground by a water cannon. As police sprayed her on the ground, he tried to move her away. He was shot in the chest, stomach and leg by impact munitions. Mariah Marie Bruce was peacefully protesting when police sprayed her with water cannons. She was then hit in the genitals with a grenade, and was hospitalized. Frank Finan was taking pictures when he was shot in the abdomen and knocked to the ground by a rubber bullet. Israel Hoagland–Lynn tried to help two people who had been shot with water cannons and rubber bullets and was shot in the back of his head by an impact munition. He lost consciousness, was hospitalized, and needed 17 staples for a head wound. Noah Michael Treanor, while praying, was shot by the water hoses or cannon. Once on the ground, he was shot in the head by an impact munition. Bleeding badly, he was hospitalized.
“The civil rights violations that night were deliberate and punitive,” said Rachel Lederman, WPLC lawyer. “The Morton County Sheriff’s Department’s illegal use of force against the Water Protectors has been escalating. It is only a matter of luck that no one has been killed. This must stop.”
The Water Protector Legal Collective is the National Lawyers Guild legal support team for those engaged in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. It maintains a 24/7 presence on-site at the Oceti Sakowin camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Donations to legal support efforts may be made to:Water Protector Legal Collective: fundrazr.com/campaigns/11B5z8 or nlg.org/donate/waterprotectorlegal for tax-deductible contributions. Sacred Stone Legal Defense Fund: fundrazr.com/campaigns/d19fAf.
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