BISMARCK — A Dakota Access Pipeline protester who was jailed earlier this month for refusing to comply with a grand jury investigation was released Monday, Feb. 22, on a judge's orders.
The arrest of Steve Martinez, a 46-year-old Bismarck resident, three weeks ago signaled that a federal investigation into a 2016 clash between DAPL protesters and law enforcement was still ongoing, and attorneys for the newly-released protester said he was re-subpoenaed before getting out of jail for another grand jury appearance on March 3.
"This ruling terminates, but does not remedy, three weeks of categorically unlawful incarceration endured by Mr. Martinez. That the Government's response was to re-subpoena him speaks to the perversity of this process," said Moira Meltzer-Cohen, an attorney for Martinez, in a statement on Tuesday.
Martinez was jailed on Feb. 3 after U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal held him in contempt of court.
According to defense attorneys, he was released after U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor agreed with their arguments that Senechal did not have the authority to impose those sanctions. Traynor ruled that Martinez should be immediately released and that further litigation around the grand jury investigation would have to proceed in front of a district court judge, rather than a magistrate judge.
Though the proceedings of grand juries are not open to the public, the arrest of Martinez suggests the continuation of a federal investigation into a violent 2016 altercation between pipeline protesters and law enforcement that resulted in the severe injury of then 20-year-old protester Sophia Wilansky in an explosion. Protesters allege that the explosion was caused by a concussion grenade thrown by police officers, while law enforcement say it resulted from a device that the protesters had rigged to explode.
Martinez also refused to comply with a grand jury investigation into Wilansky's injury four years ago.
The nature of the federal investigation and the reasons for the timing of the recent subpoenas are not clear, since grand jury proceedings are shielded from the public. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme, who was linked to Martinez's subpoena in court records, told The Forum earlier this month that he could not confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.
Martinez's attorneys say he was subpoenaed in November just days after Traynor dismissed defamation claims against officers in the Wilansky suit while granting her attorneys the power to subpoena the federal government for shrapnel and clothing.
The status of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which can carry more than 500,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota's Bakken formation, is currently in limbo after a federal court ruled the pipeline an encroachment at its Missouri River crossing near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Activists and state officials both are waiting on an April 9 deadline for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to declare its plans for the embattled pipeline.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.