Suffering From Head Trauma and Broken Bones, Standing Rock Protesters Sue Police

On behalf of the North Dakota Pipeline protesters, lawyers claim that the excessive force used by law enforcement is "evil" and unconstitutional.

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Nov 29 2016, 6:15pm

Photo by Robin Beck via Getty

Legal observers at Standing Rock have filed a lawsuit and a restraining order against law enforcement agencies on behalf of the North Dakota Pipeline protesters who were injured in the latest assault by the police.

On the night of November 20, the police reacted with extreme violence when the protesters attempted to remove a blockade that was preventing emergency vehicles from reaching the Oceti Sakowin encampment. According to the lawsuit, the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has since revoked permits for Energy Transfer Partners to construct the pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, had promised to remove the blockade "but they never did."

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Law enforcement sprayed the indigenous people and their allies—known as water protecters—with water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, shot them with rubber bullets, and used concussion grenades and mace. According to the National Lawyers Guild'sWater Protector Legal Collective, many protesters suffered from "head wounds, eye trauma, and internal bleeding."

The civil rights class action lawsuit names several water protecters who are seeking relief on behalf of the 300 protesters who were severely wounded: Vanessa Dundon, Jade Kalikolehuaokakalani Wool, Crystal Wilson, David Demo, Guy Dullknife III, Mariah Marie Bruce, Frank Finan, Israel Hoagland-Lynn, and Noah Michael Treanor. Four of the plaintiffs are of indigenous heritage.

According to the lawsuit, Dundon, who was close to the blockade and the line of police officers, was hit directly in the face with a tear gas cannon. "Dundon saw the tear gas canister was on fire or burning and was about a foot from her face. She instinctively closed her eyes and was struck in the face and right eye by a canister," the suit states. When she went to the hospital she was told that the trauma to her eye is so severe that she may never see out of it again.

The tear gas canister was on fire or burning and was about a foot from her face.

Kalikolehuaokakalani Wool, the suit states, had two grenades blow up near her head. One of the grenades burned her face and "pieces of the grenade hit Wool's face in several places." She was also repeatedly hit with a water cannon. "She feels very nervous and anxious and cannot sit still very long or sleep through the night," according to the lawsuit. "She still feels cold all the time as a result of hypothermia or exposure caused by the repeated drenchings."

The lawsuit states that Hoagland–Lynn was trying to help two people who had been shot with water cannons and rubber bullets when he was shot in the back of his head by an impact munition. He lost consciousness and ended up needing 17 staples for a head wound.

Bystanders were also targeted by law enforcement, according to the lawsuit. Demo was filming the police and not involved in removing the barricade when he was shot with a water cannon and then shot in the hand with a rubber bullet. When he was finally taken to the hospital, he discovered he has several broken knuckle bones and will need reconstructive surgery. Finan, another observer who was taking pictures, was shot in the abdomen and knocked to the ground by a rubber bullet.

It hurts to open his eyes and look around.

Treanor, who the lawsuit states was silently praying while the police blasted him with water cannons, was also shot in the head with a rubber bullet. "At the hospital, his head wound was stapled together," the lawsuit states. "As of November 22, 2016, Treanor still has many bruises on his body, and it hurts to open his eyes and look around."

For months, the Morton County Sheriff's Department in North Dakota, along with police from several other jurisdictions, have been waging a war against the Standing Rock protesters who are trying to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the desecration of Native American land. In addition to use of excessive force, which has been condemned by human rights organizations, the police had previously made false mass arrests of the protesters in an effort to break up the encampments. Eyewitness accounts from medics and the legal observers at Standing Rock suggest that the Sheriff's Department has also been spreading false information about the peaceful protesters through press releases and their official Facebook page.

Broadly attempted to contact the Sheriff's Department for comment, but the phone number listed on their website is no longer in service and their Facebook page has been shut down.

The lawsuit claims that the police's "actions were motivated by evil motive or intent, involved reckless or callous indifference to Plaintiffs' First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights secured by the U.S. Constitution, or were wantonly or oppressively done." The lawyers have requested a jury trial.

Last Friday, the Army Corps announced that the protesters must evacuate the camp by December 5 and, on Monday, North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple also ordered an evacuation, citing concerns about safety in the cold weather. It seems that the protesters, however, are committed to staying through the winter.

"The police do not have a mandate to forcibly remove anyone. First of all, there are no safety concerns justifying removing the water protectors from the Army Corps land. The safety concern is posed by law enforcement's militarized response to the water protectors, including use of very dangerous impact munitions, water cannons and other violence against unarmed people many of whom are simply engaged in prayer. The people of the Oceti Sakowin have been dealing with North Dakota winters for thousands of years and the camp is winterized," said Rachel Lederman, an attorney for the water protecters. "Second, there is no legal basis to use force. Police may only use such force as is reasonably necessary to overcome a threat or effect an arrest. The World War III approach taken by Sheriff Kirchmeier is unconstitutional and tragic."