Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier
Morton County Sheriff’s Department
205 1st Avenue NW
Mandan, ND 58554
28 September 2016
Dear Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier:
Following the protests that took place at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site
on 3 September, we are writing to ask you to investigate the use of force by private
contractors, remove blockades and discontinue the use of riot gear by Morton
County Sheriff’s deputies when policing protests in order to facilitate the right to
peaceful protests in accordance with international law and standards.
On 3 September, protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction moved on to
private property in response to the potential destruction of land that was earlier
marked as containing burial grounds and sacred sites for the local Native American
tribes. After protesters had crossed a temporary fence onto the land where
construction was taking place, video shows members of a private security firm use
dogs and what appears to be Oleoresin Capsicum spray (OC spray) against several
of the protesters before the security team leaves the premises. While the North
Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board is reviewing the use of dogs by
private security personnel during the events on 3 September, it is the obligation of
the Morton County Sheriff to review the actions taken by private security in both
the use of dogs and OC Spray against individuals at this site. Even though individuals
trespassed on to private property in order to stop the destruction of potential
cultural sites, law enforcement, in its obligation to facilitate peaceful protest, has a
duty to protect peaceful protesters and not use the unlawful acts of a few as a
pretext to restrict or impede the exercise of fundamental rights of a majority. The
Morton County Sheriff should review the unnecessary use of force by security
personnel on this day.
In relation to the actions that took place on this day, Amnesty International USA has
written to Morton County State’s Attorney, Allen Coppy, calling on his office to drop
charges of criminal trespass against Democracy Now! Journalist Amy Goodman.
Miss Goodman was acting in her role as a journalist/reporter when she crossed
onto private property in order to report on the actions of the protesters,
construction crew and private security firm. Her trespass on to this property was
clearly related to, even essential to, effectively carrying out her role of covering the
protest and making information about it available to the public. We are calling on
your office to support that request to the Morton County State’s Attorney’s office.
A copy of the letter has been attached.
Lastly, we are calling on your office to refrain from outfitting officers in riot gear
when policing of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests unless strictly necessary. On
13 September 2016, after making arrests of at least 20 individuals who were
trespassing on private land in order to partake in non-violent direct action against
the pipeline, images that were circulated from the protest site showed Morton
County Sheriff’s officers outfitted in riot gear despite the lack of violence by
protesters. More recent images from ongoing protests at the construction site show
officers outfitted in similar gear, equipped with assault rifles and using armored
vehicles to police protests. The use of heavy-duty riot gear and military-grade
weapons and equipment to police largely peaceful demonstrations intimidates
protesters who are practicing their right to peaceful assembly and can actually lead
to an escalation in violence. Equipping officers in a manner more appropriate for a
battlefield may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict is inevitable
rather than possible, escalating tensions between protesters and police. Any police
presence at demonstrations needs to be proportionate to the situation. Police
deployed in larger numbers than appear necessary or deployed wearing protective
clothing or riot gear can be confrontational and intimidating. As seen in many
countries, inappropriate or excessive police interventions can actually lead to
violence and disorder rather than reducing tensions.
The U.S. government is obligated under international law to respect, protect, and
fulfill the human rights of Indigenous people, including the rights to freedom of
expression and assembly. It is the legitimate right of people to peacefully express
their opinion. Public assemblies should not be considered as the “enemy”. The
command hierarchy must convey a clear message to law enforcement officials that
their task is to facilitate and not to restrict a peaceful public assembly.
We look forward to your reply and would be happy to provide additional
information as needed.
Amnesty International USA
Note from Censored News:
Thanks to Amnesty International for this statement. It is important that charges be dropped against Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, but it should have been pointed out that Cody Hall, Lakota media spokesman for Red Warrior Society, spent four days in jail on the same charge, criminal trespass, and Unicorn Riot livestreamers were arrested while livestreaming and jailed.