Dakota Access protester seeks release of officers’ testimony
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An American Indian activist accused of inciting a riot during protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota wants law officers’ testimony in his now-resolved case to be unsealed.
Chase Iron Eyes said the depositions will demonstrate what he describes as injustice done to American Indians and the environment, calling his effort to make the documents public as “a battle in the war of the narrative,” the Bismarck Tribune reported. Prosecutors argue Iron Eyes’ intention is to publicly smear law enforcement officers.
“There is no legitimate reason to bar the public from knowing exactly what was said — and having a fair opportunity to consider the whys — in the aftermath of the protests,” Jesse Phelps, spokesman for the Lakota People’s Law Project, which is representing Iron Eyes, said in a statement to the newspaper.
A hearing is slated for Wednesday in Mandan.
Iron Eyes and 73 others were arrested Feb. 1, 2017, after erecting teepees on disputed land that authorities said is owned by Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer. The protesters maintained they were peacefully assembling on land that belongs to American Indians under old treaties.
Iron Eyes reached a plea deal in the riot case in 2018.
In July, his attorney asked Judge Lee Christofferson to reverse his August 2018 order shielding the case’s depositions from the public. Court documents indicate that law enforcement officers, which include Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, provided sworn testimony through depositions, which take place outside of court as lawyers build their cases.
Iron Eyes said that releasing the law officers’ testimony to the public would strengthen the contention of pipeline adversaries that they were mistreated and deprived of civil rights, in addition to placing more focus on climate change.
Groups and American Indian tribes who feared environmental harm from the pipeline staged large protests that subsequently resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016.
Energy Transfer, which constructed the $3.8 billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil to Illinois, said the pipeline is safe and does not pose a danger to Native Americans.