Authorities drop 33 cases against Dakota Access protesters

A fire set by protesters burns in the background as opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline leave their main protest camp Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, near Cannon Ball, N.D. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

BISMARCK, ND (AP) — Authorities dropped nearly three dozen cases last month that stemmed from arrests of protesters against the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline, court records show.

The Bismarck Tribune reported Saturday that prosecutors and judges dropped the 33 misdemeanor cases while another 14 were resolved by guilty pleas. Most of the cases dropped last month related to criminal trespass charges from the late summer and fall.

Prosecutors struggled to prove those charges before Judge Allan Schmalenberger, who ruled in multiple cases that the Morton County State’s Attorney office had failed to meet its burden of proving that protesters were given proper notice that they were on private land, either with signs or verbal warnings.

Demonstrators staged months of protests near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to try to stop the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline, saying it will pollute water and damage Native American sacred sites. Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which built the line, says it’s safe. According to the joint information center, 761 arrests were made during the protests.

Protesters who got their charges dropped last month included Rebecca Kemble, a Madison, Wisconsin, City Council member, who was acting as a legal observer on Oct. 10, according to her defense attorney’s brief. She was charged with criminal trespass, engaging in a riot, resisting arrest and tampering with evidence, but her attorney argued she was arrested while trying to leave and was simply turning off her camera, not deleting evidence.

Those pleading guilty included actress Shailene Woodley, star of the “Divergent” films, who livestreamed her arrest on Facebook. Her plea deal on a disorderly conduct charge called for no jail time.

Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Grosinger said some of those dismissed cases would be re-charged.

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