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Injured Standing Rock protesters press 8th Circuit to revive suit

Excerpt from Courthouse News. Read the full story here.

(CN) — Dakota Access Pipeline protesters seeking reinstatement of their case against law enforcement officers who gassed them, fired less-lethal munitions and sprayed them with firehoses during a freezing North Dakota November told an Eighth Circuit panel Tuesday afternoon that a federal judge improperly glossed over factual disputes in granting summary judgment to the officers.


The protesters brought suit against two North Dakota counties and their sheriffs, plus the city of Mandan and its police chief and up to a hundred John Does, shortly afterward but were shot down first by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland and then by U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor, who took over the case after Hovland took senior status in 2019. Traynor, in his order granting summary judgment to the law enforcement officers, found that they had not committed a “seizure” of the protesters, that if they had they would be entitled to qualified immunity, and that the protesters’ First Amendment rights had not been infringed upon because they were trespassing on private property at the time. 

In her arguments before the Eighth Circuit Tuesday, attorney Rachel Lederman said Traynor had taken far too much of law enforcement’s side of the story at face value. “This case is fundamentally about disputes of fact,” she said. “The story defendants have put forth to justify their use of force is hotly disputed.” 

By cutting off the case before discovery could be conducted, Lederman said, Traynor had deprived the protesters of the chance for a jury to look at the evidence and resolve those disputes, particularly whether protesters posed enough of a threat to law enforcement to justify the use of force. 

“Defendants’ use of force caused serious injuries, such as broken bones and detached retina,” Lederman said. “Only a single officer was even slightly injured, without requiring medical attention. There’s no evidence whatsoever that any of the named plaintiffs were threatening in any way.”