BISMARCK - A North Dakota regulatory board has accused a security firm hired by the company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline of operating in the state without a license.

In a complaint dated June 12, attorneys for the North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board said the agency denied an application to James Patrick Reese, the founder of North Carolina-based TigerSwan, to become a licensed private security provider earlier this year. But Reese “and/or” the firm have “illegally continued to conduct private investigative and/or private security services in North Dakota following the denial of their application of licensure.”

The complaint said TigerSwan “maintains roving security teams” to monitor valve sites in North Dakota, and the firm’s personnel are armed with semiautomatic rifles and sidearms “while engaging in security services.” The firm continues to provide private investigative services, including “monitoring of persons affiliated with the DAPL protests,” the complaint alleges.

The board is asking a state district court for an injunction against TigerSwan and Reese and for an administrative fine for each violation they have allegedly committed. Providing private investigative or private security services without a current license issued by the board is a Class B misdemeanor under state law.

The complaint, provided by the board’s attorneys this week and filed in Burleigh County District Court Tuesday, June 27, said TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based company that built the $3.8 billion oil pipeline that runs from western North Dakota to Illinois. The project was the subject of monthslong protests sparked by concerns raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

The main protest camp south of Mandan was cleared out in February and the line is now operational, but tribes continue to fight the project in federal court.

TigerSwan provided intelligence to Energy Transfer Partners with flyover photography of the construction and protest sites, according to the board’s complaint, and coordinated with local law enforcement. It also placed or attempted to place undercover agents among protesters to investigate and surveil them.

“I can confirm that we do use TigerSwan for some of our security programs,” Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said in an email. But, she added, “we don't discuss details of our security initiatives, which are designed to ensure the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work.”

A TigerSwan spokesperson didn’t answer several emailed questions by press time Tuesday.

TigerSwan’s activities were thrust into the spotlight a month ago when an online news organization published information from leaked documents that the publication said showed the firm used “military-style counterterrorism measures” against pipeline protesters, who prefer the term “water protectors.” The Intercept said it had obtained more than 100 internal documents from a TigerSwan contractor and many more through a public records request.

Maxine Herr, a spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, said they were unaware that TigerSwan was allegedly unlicensed in North Dakota. She said they used the firm’s reports for “situational awareness” on where construction would be taking place in a given day.

“The whole point of any daily reports we got was just to know where they were doing construction because we knew those would be potential areas for protests and therefore potentially unlawful activity,” Herr said.

The board’s complaint, signed by attorneys Monte Rogneby and Justin Hagel of the Vogel Law Firm, said it was notified in September that TigerSwan was illegally providing security services in North Dakota, prompting a letter to the firm. TigerSwan responded by arguing it was not conducting those services.

Still, the firm submitted an application in mid-November on behalf of Reese, its president and chairman. The board denied the application a month later, based in part on a “positive criminal history for one or more disqualifying offense.”

In response, Reese said he had never been convicted of a crime and included copies of dismissal records for arrests. The board held a special meeting on Jan. 6 to consider Reese’s and TigerSwan’s application, but again denied it because the application was incomplete.

The complaint said the “appeal would be denied until the requested information was provided to the board as to the nature and details of the security and/or investigative activities conducted by TigerSwan in the state of North Dakota.”