BISMARCK — After more than two years of no action, a lawsuit filed by Dakota Access Pipeline protesters alleging Morton County used unreasonable force and infringed on their First Amendment rights in 2016 is now moving forward.
On Thursday, Sept. 10, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Traynor deferred Morton County's motion that asked the court to dismiss the case, stating the protesters had the right to discovery to obtain records that support their allegations against Morton County officers.
The civil lawsuit alleges that on the night of Nov. 20, 2016, members of the Morton County Sheriff's Office, Mandan Police Department and Stutsman County Sheriff's Department used explosive tear gas, water cannons and other chemical agents to "inflict excessive force" on the peaceful protesters. More than 200 protesters, also called themselves water protectors, were injured in result of the officers' actions, according to the complaint
A Morton County spokesperson said in a statement that lawyers are reviewing the case and discussing next steps.
"This is what we have been waiting for and we are confident that we will be able to show that there was no legitimate basis for the wanton violence the sheriffs and police inflicted that night," said Water Protector Legal Collective attorney Rachel Lederman in a statement. "Rather, they were trying to stop the water protectors from continuing to win support for stopping DAPL, and to deter Indigenous nations from asserting their sovereignty over lands and resources corporations want to exploit for profit."
The protesters are seeking a jury trial against the officers to secure damages for relief and compensation.
The Dakota Access Pipeline crosses the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, which holds cultural, historic and spiritual significance to the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, the complaint states. The water protectors say the area is culturally significant to the Great Sioux Nation and is a vital water source.
"It’s so good to hear that we have a chance of getting the justice we deserve, almost four years after we were brutalized on Backwater Bridge,” plaintiff Vanessa Dundon said in a statement. Dundon said a tear gas canister hit her eye and she was seriously injured on Nov. 20, 2016.
"I'm praying that this case continues to move forward to trial and I’m determined to keep fighting," she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org