Grand jury subpoena withdrawn in violent pipeline clash

By Blake Nicholson, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 2, 2017 at 9:59 a.m.

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena for a man who had been ordered to testify about a violent clash in November between police and people protesting construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.

A woman was left with a serious arm injury in the confrontation late Nov. 20 and early Nov. 21, when protesters tried to push past a blocked highway bridge near their main encampment in North Dakota. The protesters were turned back by authorities using tear gas, rubber bullets and water sprays. Police said protesters were throwing objects including rocks, asphalt and water bottles at officers.

It's unclear whether a grand jury is investigating the incident. U.S. Attorney Chris Myers didn't respond to a request for comment early Thursday. He's said in the past he can't comment on grand jury proceedings because they're secret.

Steve Martinez, 42, a pipeline opponent from Williston, was ordered to testify in January regarding an explosion that injured 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky of New York. Protesters maintain she was injured by a police grenade; authorities say she was hurt by a small propane tank that protesters rigged to explode.

Martinez said in January that he wouldn't cooperate and was willing to go to jail. About 40 of his supporters rallied outside the federal courthouse in Bismarck. Nevertheless, a judge refused to quash the subpoena.

Martinez had been scheduled to testify Wednesday. His attorney, Ralph Hurvitz, said prosecutors withdrew the subpoena on Monday without giving a reason. He didn't know if any other protesters were called to testify.

The Water Protector Legal Collective, a group of attorneys representing pipeline opponents facing criminal charges, said the grand jury is "one piece of a broader effort to criminalize water protectors and to unfairly target individuals in an effort to divide the movement."

Pipeline opponents who stayed at the now-defunct camp dubbed themselves water protectors because they believe the $3.8 billion pipeline could leak oil into Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir that supplies water to the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux reservations. Pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes that and is finishing up construction, with an eye to having oil flowing from North Dakota to Illinois by the end of the month. The tribes are continuing to fight in court.

In a statement to The Associated Press, the Morton County Sheriff's Office rejected the collective's claim, saying "our priority has been and will always be to protect First Amendment rights while bringing to justice those who choose not to be peaceful and prayerful in their protests."

There have been about 750 arrests in the region since mid-August. The sheriff's office said "those who choose to engage in such behavior are the ones guilty of dividing the movement they claim to be a part of."


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