Standing Rock Water Protectors Report Escalating Surveillance, Civil Rights and Privacy Violations

Impounded cars ransacked, sacred items destroyed; one water protector arrested and held for conspiracy while transporting donated supplies to camp

For Immediate Release

CANNON BALL, ND – Members of the Red Owl Legal Collective (ROLC), a group providing pro bono legal support to the thousands of people encamped near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, are condemning increasing incidents of disturbing overreach by local and state law enforcement.

Since August 2016, Indigenous people and allies have been encamped on the shores of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers in North Dakota to protect ancestral land and waters from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Their numbers have since swelled into the thousands.

On October 27, law enforcement launched a violent raid on a new frontline camp. Over 100 armed officers, accompanied by a sound cannon, armored vehicles, and a bulldozer deployed tear gas, mace, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades against Indigenous protectors and horses. But what happened after and since the raid has not been so visible, report ROLC members.

As part of the raid, law enforcement created a blockade between protectors and their vehicles, then impounded over 60 of those vehicles after mass-arresting protectors; because many vehicles belonged to protectors who were arrested, dozens were released only to find themselves stranded in Bismarck or Mandan, over an hour’s drive from camp. And when owners finally regained possession, it got worse.

“Most of the vehicles had been totally ransacked,” said ROLC’s Angela Bibens. “We saw items removed from cars with no explanation, medicines emptied and scattered around, property destroyed, damage to steering columns, and evidence of attempts to open locked luggage.” One protector discovered an airjack – a device used to force open car doors – in their passenger seat.

The property damage didn’t stop with cars. A dumpster load of seized property was recovered at a Bureau of Indian Affairs checkpoint on the highway about 2 miles from the camp. When protectors returned for their things, they found sacred item after sacred item had been defaced, with apparent intentionality. One item, a bull skull, had its horns snapped clean off. One protector, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Sabelle, believes these actions are attempts to intimidate potential travelers to the camp. “When they target us like this, it makes other people scared of coming,” she said.

The ROLC also reports two disconcerting incidents of arrests. On November 2, a protector was pulled over, arrested, and told he was he being held for conspiracy charges. He was later charged with “impeding government function,” a charge Bibens finds disturbing given what the protector was doing at the time of his arrest: driving a U-Haul full of donated kayaks to the camp. On November 3, at least 17 clergy representing multiple faiths were arrested at the governor’s office [praying] and charged with disorderly conduct and “criminal trespass.” Rather than bring all the arrestees to a holding facility in Bismarck, law enforcement separated the group by gender, then drove all the women to Fargo, ND, more than four hours’ drive away. ROLC has found no evidence that this decision was made because of a lack of space. The separation is part of a larger pattern of separating arrestees on seemingly arbitrary bases; ROLC reports that arrestees have been sent to six different facilities all over the state so far.

“We get treated differently because the color of our skin, when we’re all human. It’s uncomfortable to get targeted like that,” said Star, another protector living at the camp. “We just want clean water for everyone. We get put in dog kennels – they don’t care. We’re not here to be angry, we’re here in peace and prayer, for all of us. The only weapons we have are our prayers, our good thoughts, and our humanity.”
ROLC volunteers have maintained a 24/7 presence at the main camp since August 2016 to deal with the growing pile of criminal cases and civil litigations resulting from the excessive use of force and suppression of First Amendment activity at Standing Rock.

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This release may be excerpted or copied in full on the condition of proper attribution to the Red Owl Legal Collective.