Water Protector Civil Lawsuit


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  • If you were injured on or near Backwater Bridge on the night of November 20-21, please input your information here. This form is secure and confidential, for the WPLC civil attorneys only.
  • If you were injured by law enforcement on another date, in connection with the water protector camps in North Dakota please input your information here. This form is secure and confidential, for the WPLC civil attorneys only.

The November 20 Lawsuit

Dundon v. Kirchmeier is a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging police violence on the night of November 20-21, 2016, at Backwater Bridge, near the Oceti Sakowin camp and the site of the DAPL pipeline in North Dakota. The case was filed on November 28, 2016, in federal court, as a class action lawsuit on behalf of all persons who were injured by law enforcement that night.

Plaintiff Vanessa Dundon is a member of the Navajo/Diné Nation who was shot in the eye with a teargas canister that night, suffering a partial vision loss. She and eight other named Plaintiffs represent a class of several hundred water protectors who were injured by high pressure fire hoses, explosive grenades, chemical agents and impact munitions while peacefully protesting and engaging in prayer in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Plaintiffs’ legal team includes notable civil rights lawyers from around the country who are cooperating with WPLC to pursue the case. The Indigenous Peoples’ Law & Policy Program at the University of Arizona is working with WPLC and the Plaintiffs’ legal team to bring the human rights and treaty violations to the attention of international bodies.

In February, 2017, United States District Court Judge Daniel Hovland denied the water protectors’ initial request that he restrict the local sheriff from using water cannons or fire hoses in freezing temperatures, explosives and other dangerous weapons on peaceful crowds. The lawsuit continues to move forward and asks for monetary compensation for the injuries and the violation of the water protectors’ constitutional rights, as well as for changes in local law enforcement practices. The Defendants — Morton County, its Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, and other local law enforcement — have asked the court to dismiss the case or parts of the case. The Plaintiff’s legal team filed our papers opposing that in April, 2018, and requested a hearing, but the court has not set a hearing or decided the motion yet. The delay is common in the North Dakota federal court currently. The case was recently reassigned to Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal so we are hoping she will set a hearing and the case will move forward. As soon as we hear from the court, we will update this page.

In May, 2019, we brought four indigenous women protectors to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the suppression of indigenous resistance to extractive industries and border militarization. Watch the video.

In a report submitted to the United Nations on October 3, 2019, for its Universal Periodic Review of US’ human rights record, WPLC and IPLP documented: 1) disproportionate punishment of indigenous environmental activism in the United States; 2) state and private collaboration to violate the civil rights of water protectors; 3) legislation intended to suppress resistance to the fossil fuel industry; and 4) the US’ failure to comply with its treaty obligations to indigenous peoples.

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