Green Party presidential candidate faces charges for vandalizing pipeline equipment
MANDAN, N.D. — Authorities plan to bring charges against Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein after she joined protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline in spray painting graffiti on equipment at a construction site Tuesday.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said his office is working through the state's attorney to pursue charges of trespassing and vandalism against Stein after video of her spray painting the blade of a bulldozer was posted online.
Roughly 150 to 200 protesters descended on the construction site two miles east of State Highway 6 around 10 a.m., and two people bound themselves to bulldozers using the same type of casting material used by demonstrators last week.
Witnesses said pipeline construction workers left the area when protesters arrived. Kirchmeier said no workers were present at the time but that protesters chased away some private security officers who were on site before jumping onto equipment and vandalizing it with graffiti. Dakota Access did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kirchmeier said about 25 officers responded and observed people on horseback and protesters wearing masks and goggles and some carrying hatchets and knives.
Unlike last week's protest, officers did not attempt to cut free the man and woman bound to the construction equipment.
"Officers were pulled back from the area because it was determined at that point it was unsafe for them to go into the situation," he said, adding, "I don't believe we need to go in there and have physical altercations with protesters."
No arrests were made, but authorities are actively investigating Tuesday's protest and a clash Saturday between private security personnel and a few hundred protesters who marched onto a separate construction site "and we will pursue charges as needed," Kirchmeier said.
"This type of stuff needs to stop and it needs to stop now. There is nothing that is going to be gained from this," he said.
Cody Hall, a spokesman for the Red Warrior Camp and resident of Eagle Butte on South Dakota's Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, said he didn't condone the spray painting.
"We're peaceful. We've always been peaceful. And that paints a different image we don't need," he said.
But Hall said Saturday's bulldozing of areas that the tribe had identified in court a day earlier as containing sacred burial grounds and prayer sites, and the use of biting dogs and pepper spray on protesters, "put it into the feeling that we need to protect more."
"When they erased our burial sites, the game changed," he said.
Dakota Access claims no historical sites were destroyed, and the sheriff's office said private security workers were physically assaulted with fence posts and flagpoles. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., Tuesday granted in part and denied in part a temporary restraining order sought by the tribe after Dakota Access agreed to halt construction in some but not all of the area requested by the tribe, Reuters reported.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said the tribe is disappointed that the court's decision doesn't prevent Dakota Access "from destroying our sacred sites" as the tribe awaits a ruling expected by Friday on its original motion for an injunction to stop construction.
Meanwhile in federal court in Bismarck, a temporary restraining order against Archambault II and other Dakota Access Pipeline protesters has been extended and a hearing postponed.
Attorneys for Dakota Access and some of the defendants met over a telephone status conference call Tuesday and agreed to delay the hearing from this Thursday to Sept. 20, according to an order written by U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland.
Dakota Access filed a lawsuit against Archambault, tribal council member Dana Yellow Fat and several other defendants the company alleges have interfered with pipeline construction north of the reservation. The judge granted the company's request for a temporary restraining order, which is now extended through Sept. 20.
The hearing will determine whether a preliminary injunction should be issued. Hovland wrote in his motion the parties are "strongly encouraged to meet and confer in good faith" in attempt to resolve the matter prior to the hearing.
Holly Swallow, who stood atop a bulldozer with her brother, Calvert Swallow of Rosebud, S.D., said the self-described "water protectors" will continue to disrupt the pipeline's construction regardless of the judge's ruling, which is expected to be appealed either way.
"We're still going to occupy each site," she said.
"In the meantime, we don't want them doing this to the land," her brother said.
North Dakota Department of Emergency Services Director Al Dohrmann called Tuesday's protest "a major setback" in ongoing negotiations between state officials and members of Standing Rock and the protest camp near Cannon Ball.
"Standing Rock does not have control of everyone in that camp," Dohrmann said, adding everyone needs to work together toward a peaceful solution and "marginalize the agitators."
International Union of Operating Engineers business manager Glen Johnson released a statement saying union members at the site reported protesters broke through security lines and made threats, threw rocks at them and chased them out of their equipment and off the jobsite.
Leaders of four labor unions sent a letter to Gov. Jack Dalrymple asking him to take action to enforce the law and protect workers.
"We hope the governor is listening and takes action immediately to restore law and order to this situation," Johnson said.
Hall said he wasn't aware of any action taken against workers and said he didn't see any knives or hatchets at the site.
Stein leaned on the bulldozer's blade as she talked to protesters.
"I'm not here for a photo op. For me, this work began long before the campaign," she said, later noting she was arrested in the fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Protesters grilled Stein on what policy changes she would make to improve conditions for Native Americans. At one point, a protester said, "Where's Obama?" and Stein replied, "Exactly, where is Obama?"
Robert Eder of Cannon Ball, whose mother is a member of a Standing Rock Sioux, said he was "not impressed" by Stein's appearance and is disappointed that President Obama, who met with tribal youths while making a rare visit to the Standing Rock reservation in June 2014, hadn't weighed in on the pipeline.
"He sat there and cried for the children. What about the children's water that's going to be affected?" he said.
The woman bound to the bulldozer, Julie "Mama Jules" Richards from South Dakota's Pine Ridge reservation, also said she wasn't impressed by Stein.
"She could have locked down, but she didn't want to," she said.
Richards said she was prepared to be there "as long as it takes," and after more than four hours she and the other protester set themselves free, their mission accomplished.
"We stopped the construction," she said.
As Tuesday's protest got under way, some children back at the camp played basketball as adults unloaded a steady flow of donated clothing, water, food and other supplies. Dozens of tarp-covered pallets dot the landscape among the teepees and tents as protesters gear up for an extended stay and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reviews their application for a permit so they can be there legally.
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network who is helping lead the camp, estimated about 1,200 to 1,300 people were there Tuesday morning, down from around 3,000 over the Labor Day weekend.
He said Tuesday's protest was a form of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action that will continue until legal action halts construction of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline, which will carry 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day and eventually up to 570,000 barrels per day from North Dakota to Illinois.
"We want to shut down this pipeline. There is not going to be an alternative route," Hall said. "This is your modern-day David versus Goliath."