Water Protectors file class action suit for retaliation and excessive force against brutal police

Contact: Lauren Regan, Director and Attorney, Civil Liberties Defense Center; Water Protector Legal Collective attorney, 541-687-9180; info@cldc.org

Complaint and TRO filings included

Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota— On November 20, 2016 Native Americans and their allies walked on to a public bridge and prayed. They bowed their heads in the frigid North Dakota dusk, lit sage and cedar, and began praying for the survival of the Missouri River, for their indigenous cultures, and for the planet and all its inhabitants. On the other side of a thick razor wire fence, reminiscent of that found on prison walls and war zones, an army of trained killers began to amass with their weaponry. The people praying, which included elders and youth, looked up from their exercise of First Amendment expression and into the foreboding line of police in riot gear, face masks, shields, guns, giant fire extinguisher-sized containers of chemical weapons, grenade launchers of tear gas, Tasers, batons, and what appears to be shotguns which shoot less than lethal bullets, called Specialty Impact Munitions (SIM). The public servants humiliated their profession by chastising and taunting Native American protectors, laughing when they injured a water protector with their munitions.

Water Protectors began to include the police in their prayers for peace and nonviolence. They prayed for an end to environmental racism as the DAPL pipeline construction loomed in the background. They prayed for an end to systemic racism, as they were surrounded by white allies in the hope that police might spare their brown bodies because they were surrounded by white ones of privilege. Police readied into position a water cannon, or commonly described as a high-pressure fire hose. And then, in an act deemed illegal and morally intolerable since the 1960’s civil rights era, law enforcement who took an oath to protect and serve everyone, unleashed a violent torrent of freezing cold water upon the brown indigenous people assembled in prayer and allyship in an apparent attempt to wash them out of sight and mind. Bodies were whipped to the ground, innocent people were shocked into hypothermia and unable to move, and worse—many were trapped on the bridge unable to escape. Police used floodlights to blind the protectors and then began firing less than lethal bullets—the pop pop pop noise and the screams of pain penetrating the freezing night air. Then chemical foggers were sprayed into the crowd, CS gas (teargas) canisters were launched out of high powered weapons, grenades were aimed at peoples’ heads, and the relentless icy force of high pressured fire hoses were continuously used as a form of crowd control for over 5 hours. Protectors collapsed unable to breathe from the chemical weapons, one person began having a seizure and was rendered unconscious. One woman had a cop intentionally aim a flash bang grenade into her groin. At least two people had their heads split open by less than lethal bullets and required dozens of staples to survive, another young woman was shot in the eye and face, another in the kneecap, another had his knuckles shattered and finger flesh peeled away while he gripped a camera; many more people walked away with welts and bruises. Many people required medical attention for chemical weapon exposure, respiratory and vision problems. Explosive chemical devices and other incendiary weapons were launched into the crowd by police with reckless abandon. One officer held onto his explosive Instantaneous Blast CS grenade[1] for 5 of the 7 seconds he has to launch it before it explodes, and then threw it directly at a 21-year-old Water Protector named Sophia Wilansky. It is believed that the grenade exploded on her left arm almost tearing it from her body. As blood began to pour from her body, and in an absolute demonstration of malice, police targeted medics and people attempting to rescue her and other injured people from the bridge. It is still unknown whether Ms. Walinsky must have her arm amputated at her elbow. These are just a few of the almost 300 injuries that were reported on November 20th.

It is for these reasons and more that Water Protectors have filed a civil rights class action seeking an emergency restraining order from the US District Court of North Dakota requesting that the Court put an end to the potentially deadly tactics used by law enforcement against them. The request urges the Court to grant interim relief consisting of an order prohibiting Defendant law enforcement agencies from using excessive force in responding to the pipeline protests and prayer ceremonies and asks specifically for a prohibition on the use of SIM, explosive grenades, chemical agents, and water cannons or hoses, as means of crowd dispersal. The civil rights complaint seeks justice against the constitutional violations perpetuated against the mostly Native American water protectors, including claims of retaliation and police brutality by law enforcement, as well suing the Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, and City of Mandan Chief of Police Jason Ziegler for maintaining policies, customs, and practices that led to grave violations of Plaintiffs’ rights secured by the U.S. Constitution. This Court must decide whether the poorly trained defendant law enforcement agencies used SIM, freezing water, chemical agents, and explosive grenades to harm the Water Protectors and chill or deter them from their lawful exercise of the rights to free speech, association, and religion in violation of the First Amendment.

During the 1960’s civil rights era in the United States, African American activists were killed by police while exercising their constitutional rights. People were injured, traumatized and killed for standing up for what is clearly the right side of justice. Native Americans, long brutalized and repressed by colonizing terrorists, are taking their stand in the fight for justice and environmental sanity. The State is again responding with terror and violence in the face of a changing moral and social society. The world is watching what is happening at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota. The CLDC is honored to be part of the team of lawyers and legal scholars that will relentlessly pursue justice for the Water Protectors against the fascist police attack that occurred on the Backwater Bridge spanning the Cannonball River in Sioux Standing Rock land.

Video of the incident on Nov. 20th:



If you would like to support the current efforts at Standing Rock please consider the following actions:

–Call local and federal agencies to demand:

(1) the immediate end to construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, (2) the immediate cessation and a full investigation into law enforcement and DAPL Security guard abuses against Water Protectors, and

(3) demanding the Morton County State’s Attorney dismiss all felony charges against water protectors from the October 27 police raid.

(4) Permit the water protectors to stay at their current encampment until the DAPL’s application to drill under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River is permanently denied.

White House: 202-456-1414

or sign the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s White House petition http://standwithstandingrock.net/take-action/

White House Situation Room, 202-456-9431

North Dakota Governor’s Office: 701-328-2200

Morton County Sheriff’s Office: 620-697-4313

Morton County State’s Attorney’s Office: 701-667-3330

Army Corps of Engineers-Bismarck 701-255-0015

To support CLDC’s efforts to provide legal support at Standing Rock please contribute at https://cldc.org/nodapl

You can read the full suit below:

Complaint-1983-Class-Action standing-rock-emergency-injunction


[1] https://www.safariland.com/products/less-lethal/chemical-agent-devices/chemical-grenades/non-pyrotechnic/instantaneous-blast/instantaneous-blast-cs-grenade-1012496.html