DAPL protester forced to walk with hip broken in police charge, lawsuit alleges
The Morton County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing and said it plans to vigorously defend itself against claims in the lawsuit.
BISMARCK — An Oklahoma man whose pelvis was broken when he was tackled by a police officer while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in February 2017 has brought an excessive force lawsuit against North Dakota law enforcement officials.
In the lawsuit filed in North Dakota U.S. District Court, activist Eric Poemoceah claims police forced him to walk about 200 feet after he requested an ambulance and mocked him when he complained of his injuries.
Poemoceah, a member of the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma, was injured at the tail end of the months-long protests aimed at preventing construction of a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline that would carry oil across the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
The suit, brought by the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Ore., alleges the officers' indifference to Poemoceah’s injuries was in part retaliation for his involvement in the pipeline protests. It also claims officers lacked appropriate training in handling large-scale demonstrations.
Poemoceah is seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages for lasting extreme pain in his left hip, lower back and leg that resulted from the incident, as well as mental distress.
The complaint names Morton County, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, and Bismarck police officer Benjamin Swenson, the officer who tackled Poemoceah, as defendants. The Morton County Sheriff's Office, which had deputized Swenson during the protests, denied any wrongdoing in a Wednesday, April 22, statement.
"Poemoceah, along with others, was trespassing at the time the incident occurred. Poemoceah’s claimed injuries occurred during a lawful arrest," the statement said. "Morton County and related law enforcement intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit claims brought by Mr. Poemeceah through his attorneys."
Then-Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney is also named in the complaint for his role in Poemoceah’s arrest and in managing law enforcement's response to the protests. Two unnamed Fargo police officers and a sheriff’s deputy from an unnamed agency are also listed as John Doe defendants. Laney could not be reached for comment.
Video of the incident shows Poemoceah standing on a road in front of a group of about 30 riot equipment-clad officers. According to the lawsuit, Poemoceah, who was live-streaming the incident, was trying to negotiate a “peaceful process” for elders to leave the Water Protector encampment before the officers charged at the protesters.
Poemoceah and a group of protesters standing behind him turned and ran when police made their charge, video shows. An officer can then be seen tackling Poemoceah from behind, sending both off the road and onto the downward slope of a hill.
Four officers then restrained Poemoceah, who can be heard in a recording screaming “It hurts! You broke my hip!” The activist requested an ambulance but was instead forced by officers to walk more than 200 feet to a van, according to the complaint.
Poemoceah was brought to a Bismarck hospital about two and a half hours after the incident and then booked in the Burleigh County Jail on an obstructing a government function charge, a Class A misdemeanor. It was later confirmed that part of his hip was broken, the complaint said.
Charges against Poemoceah and at least eight others present during the police charge were later dropped because police never filed written statements about essential facts outlining the offenses, the complaint said.
Poemoceah's lawsuit is the latest legal action brought against North Dakota law enforcement officials in connection to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. In 2016 activists sued the city of Mandan and the sheriffs of Morton and Stutsman counties for alleged use of excessive force.
In July 2019, a Navajo tribe member from Arizona brought a similar excessive force lawsuit against Morton County. Attorneys from the county and the city of Bismarck asked U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland to dismiss the complaint.
This story has been updated to include comment from the Morton County Sheriff's Office.