Probe into Dakota Access protest continues 4 years later

·2-min read

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A violent clash four years ago between Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and law enforcement is still being investigated, and one protester has been arrested for contempt of court after refusing to provide grand jury testimony, his attorneys said.

No one has been criminally charged in the November 2016 clash that severely injured Sophia Wilansky, 21, of New York. She has sued law enforcement officers and Morton County, alleging police intentionally targeted her with a concussion grenade. Officers have denied wrongdoing.

Federal authorities arrested fellow protester Steve Martinez on Feb. 3 for contempt of court, according to his attorneys, who said his detainment is tied to Wilansky’s lawsuit and government attempts to blame protesters, the Bismarck Tribune reported. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme did not respond to a Bismarck Tribune request for comment.

In 2016 and 2017, American Indian tribes and environmental advocates tried unsuccessfully to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River, fearing an oil leak would contaminate the water. Pipeline operator Energy Transfer and federal officials who approved the $3.8 billion line maintain it's safe. The pipeline has been moving Bakken oil since June 2017.

More than 750 people were arrested during six months of protests. On Nov. 20, 2016, protesters tried to push past a blocked highway bridge but were turned back by authorities with tear gas, rubber bullets and water sprays. Police say protesters threw rocks and other objects at officers.

Wilansky's left arm was injured in an explosion and her father said at the time that doctors considered amputation because her forearm was nearly torn off.

Protesters allege the blast was caused by a concussion grenade thrown by officers; police say protesters rigged a propane canister to explode. So far, neither theory has been proven.

Martinez, 46, was subpoenaed in December 2016 to go before a grand jury and provide testimony and items including photos, according to documents provided by his attorneys. He didn't cooperate, saying he believed authorities were trying to suppress the protest movement. Prosecutors later withdrew the subpoena without giving a reason.

Martinez was subpoenaed again last November. He appeared before the grand jury on Feb. 3 and invoked his constitutional right to free speech and assembly and his right to remain silent, his attorneys said. He was found in contempt and could stay behind bars for up to 1 ½ years — the maximum length of the grand jury proceeding.

“The state should not be intimidating people and trying to blame us for harm they caused,” he said in a statement from jail. “I didn’t want to lose my freedom, but they are not going to break me.”