BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An organization formed to provide legal help to opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline is launching an effort this week to help protesters with criminal warrants resolve their cases.
There are about 100 outstanding warrants issued for people from 25 states, according to the Water Protector Legal Collective nonprofit, which takes its name from the moniker that pipeline opponents gave themselves. Most of those people are from the Dakotas, California and New York.
The legal collective is planning "outreach tour" events Thursday at Oglala Lakota College's Paha Sapa location in Rapid City, South Dakota; Friday and Saturday at the powwow grounds in Pine Ridge, South Dakota; and Saturday and Sunday at the powwow grounds in Fort Yates, North Dakota.
"We want to be available to speak in person, especially with those water protectors who may have doubts about negotiating the criminal justice system, or who may not know who we are," paralegal Mary Redway said.
The collective has promoted the effort through tribal media and social media. It also has set up a hotline for people who can't make it to one of the events.
The legal collective's effort is not being done in conjunction with the courts, and those who attend one of the events will not be offered a special deal. Morton County prosecutors Allen Koppy and Brian Grosinger did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.
Thousands of people gathered in encampments in southern North Dakota in 2016 and early 2017 to protest the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to move North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. ETP says the pipeline is safe, but opponents worry about environmental harm. Many of them clashed with police, resulting in 761 arrests in a six-month span.
Of the 831 protest-related cases in North Dakota's South Central Judicial District, where the protests occurred, only 19 remain open, 16 are on appeal and 95 are considered inactive with warrants issued, according to Trial Court Administrator Donna Wunderlich. The legal collective keeps its own tally that differs slightly, with 838 total cases and 104 warrants.
The legal collective aims to help resolve the warrant cases by the end of August, when it plans to scale back its activities due to the dwindling number of unresolved cases, Executive Director Terry Janis said. Another organization that's been providing financial help for suspects' bail, travel and housing expenses also is expected to disband at the same time.
Some people might not even be aware they have an outstanding warrant, while others might have little interest in resolving their case, the collective said.
"It is an unfortunate reality that having a warrant can come back to cause them some problems in the future," Janis said. "We encourage people to get in touch with us."
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