Lakota Country Times: North Dakota county sheriff sued for excessive force

Law enforcement in North Dakota responded with a strong show of force on November 20, 2016. Photo by by Rob Wilson [GoFundMe]

Excessive Force Suit against Morton County
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

BISMARK, ND-- A lawsuit brought forth by a national lawyers guild is demanding that a U.S. District Court in Bismarck grant an immediate injunction preventing law enforcement from continuing to deploy certain weapons against water protectors.

An important question has been presented to a judge in North Dakota asking whether it is legal for law enforcement agencies to continue to use rubber bullets, lead-filled beanbags, water and sound cannons, directed energy devices, water hoses, explosive tear gas grenades and other chemical agents against water protectors seeking to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

On Monday, November 28, the Water Protector Legal Collective filed the suit on behalf of several water protectors - including Oglala Lakota Citizen Gary Dull Knife - tha asks a judge to issue an injunction preventing the use of these munitions against water protectors.

The suit states that "Plaintiffs were engaging in constitutional-protected activity when Defendants, acting or purporting to act in the performance of their official duties as law enforcement officers, caused Plaintiffs to suffer injuries that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that activity, and Defendants’ adverse actions were substantially motivated by a desire to retaliate against Plaintiffs’ exercise of constitutionally-protected conduct.

In a court filing, water protectors shed light of the conduct of law enforcement that was seen across the globe.

On "November 20, 2016, water protectors gathered to pray and to peacefully protest the continued construction of DAPL and the ongoing blockage of the public highway 1806. At Backwater Bridge, a bridge on Highway 1806, they were met by Defendants, a joint force of police officers from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, City of Mandan Police Department, and Stutsman County Sheriff's Department. Several of these officers arrived in military vehicles and deployed an arsenal of dangerous implements and devices, including SIM, explosive teargas grenades, and teargas canisters. The Stutsman County Sheriff's Department brought an armored vehicle with a water cannon mounted on top, which was used to spray water on Plaintiffs and others despite the subfreezing temperature. No orders to disperse, or warnings were given before deployment of these high levels of force against the unarmed water protectors. On this night, over 200 water protectors, including Plaintiffs, were injured by excessive police force, some of them very seriously."

The situation around the proposed project has been exasperated by pipeline builders who have continually scoffed at federal requests to halt drilling and what seems to be several blatant attempts to destroy sites held sacred by Native people across the Great Plains. If completed DAPL would run from North Dakota to Illinois for nearly 1,200 miles, and carry up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Although there has been several documented incidents involving police use of the munitions in question, the suit states that the "Defendants’ attack (on November 20, 2016) represented the most brutal of an increasingly violent campaign by Defendants to suppress and chill Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected rights."

The allegations are based around the assumption that Morton County had exercised excessive force against water protectors in an attempt to retaliate against them for exercising their right to free speech, that policies enacted by Morton County has allowed for the suppression of the constitutional rights of water protectors, and that the actual act of using rubber bullets, lead-filled beanbags, water and sound cannons, directed energy devices, water hoses, explosive tear gas grenades and other chemical agents in the manner they were used is illegal.

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In a statement made to the Bismark Tribune by Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier defended his department's actions.

"When we’re put in the position of protected areas being overrun by numbers of people, these are lawful tools to quell the advancement. These are standing orders. When decisions have to be made by the field commander, he has the necessary authority to make the call,” he said.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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