Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Lawsuit by Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters

(P&GJ) — A recent ruling by a three-judge panel from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the decision made by a federal judge in 2021 to dismiss a legal action brought forth by demonstrators opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The protesters, numbering nine, claimed that law enforcement officers deployed excessive force during a confrontation in 2016.

Initiated in 2016, the lawsuit alleged violations of civil and constitutional rights, specifically focusing on the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, shotgun bean bags, and water in sub-freezing temperatures during a clash on November 20, 2016, at a barricaded highway bridge, according to AP.

Vanessa Dundon, a Navajo Nation member and lead plaintiff, asserted sustaining an eye injury during the incident.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit were the sheriffs of Morton and Stutsman counties, the Mandan police chief, and 100 unidentified officers. In 2021, U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor granted the officers' request for dismissal, a decision that the protesters contested in 2022. The appellate court's decision, affirming Traynor's ruling, was handed down on November 3.

Randall Bakke, the attorney representing the defendants, expressed satisfaction with the court's decision, telling The Bismarck Tribune that, "Morton County and the other defendants are pleased with the 8th Circuit appellate court’s decision to uphold the North Dakota federal district court’s dismissal of all the plaintiffs’ claims against them.”

According to AP, Rachel Lederman, the protesters' attorney, conveyed disappointment, telling the newspaper, “This has been a hard-fought struggle by Indigenous-led water protectors to vindicate their constitutional rights, which were so egregiously violated at Standing Rock. It is disappointing to see the federal courts readily absolve law enforcement who brutally pummeled nonviolent, peaceful people with freezing high pressure water and dangerous, maiming munitions for hours on end.”

The legal battle persists with ongoing lawsuits, including those filed by three protesters who allege injuries due to officers' actions and two photographers who claim excessive force and constitutional rights violations while covering the protest.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently released a preliminary environmental review of the oil pipeline. This is part of a comprehensive process anticipated to culminate in late 2024 with a decision on the pipeline's contested Missouri River crossing near the Standing Rock Reservation.

Despite the legal setbacks, the pipeline has been operational since 2017. Opposition to the project continues, notably from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, citing concerns about the potential for a spill jeopardizing their drinking water supply.


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