US, (PT) Scores of people who resisted the Dakota Access Pipeline are still trailed by outstanding warrants. Many either don’t have legal representation, or aren’t even aware they have active warrants. Hundreds traveled from across America to support the pipeline resistance from 2016-2017, making the over 100 outstanding warrants a national issue. To help resolve them, the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) is offering its expertise to former NoDAPL activists.
“Staff hope to have informal face-to-face conversations in a relaxed, familiar setting in which they can explain what Protectors can expect if they return to Morton County to resolve the warrants.” WPLC press release reads.
The legal collective toured throughout both Dakotas during the first week of August connecting with former protesters. “Ideally…” reads a press release given to Pontiac Tribune, WPLC “would like to bring to conclusion all of the 838 cases in which Water Protectors have faced criminal charges.” Most are misdemeanor charges including trespassing, or disorderly conduct.
Signs, radio shout outs, T-shirts, and word-of-mouth helped reach people even in remote locales.“We’ve tried to make it more distinguishable from every other person who would call you about a legal thing related to Standing Rock,” WPLC’s Jess Fuller explained.
The legal collective’s tour found five Water Protectors, all of whom accepted legal aid. Fuller said that’s a big success, especially considering how difficult Water Protectors can be to locate. Many had phones confiscated, or changed numbers and addresses after being arrested. “That’s five people who we haven’t ever really been able to reach before,” she said.
Even those who haven’t been convicted are enduring other challenges for their role in the protests. The pending charges “negatively affected some Water Protectors’ ability to secure employment, cross international borders, and can complicate US citizenship.”
The resistance against the multi-billion dollar Energy Transfer Partners project gradually evolved into one of the most heavy-handed state responses to protest in recent history. Mass arrests charged journalists, lawyers, and even politicians like Jill Stein alongside Water Protectors. The entrenched resistance camps were dismantled only after months of protest costing Energy Transfer Partners millions.
Many charges have been dismissed, or resulted in “pre-trial diversion, plea agreements, and acquittal… Only 17 cases have resulted in convictions, and 6 are currently under appeal.” Fuller recalled court hearings she’d attended which were dismissed or acquitted “before lunch… They’re just really trying to justify these mass arrests probably to evade civil litigation, and to protect their own legitimacy,” suggested Fuller.
Earning the trust of Water Protectors can also be challenging regardless of the legal issues they face. “People are skeptical for a host of reasons,” explained Fuller. “Such as informants. Especially at camp, and after the federal indictments came down, people were really paranoid for a while and distrustful.” It’s an underlining web of well-founded suspicion which Fuller says she’s seen evolve since joining WPLC in late 2016.
Dakota Access Pipeline protesters were widely subjected to surveillance and intimidation. Both law enforcement and private contractors targeted Water Protectors with a slew of electronic and physical monitoring techniques. Phones and computers regularly malfunctioned and social media access was blocked. Informants and planted provocateurs worked to sow discord in the camps.
“It’s not just about building trust,” Fuller told Pontiac Tribune. “It’s about making sure people feel educated and empowered, and knowing what they’re getting into and knowing the questions to ask their attorneys once they do get representation.”
WPLC’s release also explains “there’s a sizable amount of people who are under the impression that their case was dismissed.” In reality, as occurred around October 22, 2017, many were re-charged unbeknownst to them. As it stands,106 warrants related to the pipeline resistance span over 20 states.
These include: South Dakota, California, North Dakota, Washington, New York, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
What happened during the NoDAPL resistance didn’t end with the destruction of the final resistance camps. Like many Native issues, the ongoing court trials and warrants against Water Protectors are playing out quietly.
*This article has been edited from its original version to correct typos.