Federal appeals court upholds judge's dismissal of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters' lawsuit

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal judge's 2021 decision dismissing a lawsuit filed by protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline, who alleged law enforcement officers used excessive force during a clash in 2016.

Nine protesters filed the lawsuit in 2016. They alleged civil and constitutional rights violations in officers' use of tear gas, rubber bullets, shotgun bean bags and water in below-freezing temperatures during the clash on Nov. 20, 2016, at a blocked highway bridge. Lead plaintiff and Navajo Nation member Vanessa Dundon said she sustained an eye injury.

The lawsuit's defendants included the Morton and Stutsman county sheriffs, the Mandan police chief and 100 unidentified officers. In 2021, U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor granted the officers' request to dismiss the case. The protesters appealed in 2022. The appeals court decision affirming Traynor's ruling came Nov. 3.

The defendants' attorney, Randall Bakke, told 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.”

The protesters' attorney, Rachel Lederman, told 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.”

Similar lawsuits continue to play out, including cases filed by three protesters who say they were injured because of officers' actions, and by two photographers who allege officers used excessive force and violated their constitutional rights while they were covering the protest.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently released a draft environmental review of the oil pipeline, part of a lengthy process expected to result in late 2024 with a decision as to the line’s controversial Missouri River crossing near the Standing Rock Reservation.

The pipeline has been operating since 2017. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposes the pipeline as a risk to its drinking water supply due to the potential of a spill.