BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A violent clash four years ago between Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and law enforcement is still being investigated, and one protester has been arrested for contempt of court after refusing to provide grand jury testimony, his attorneys said.
No one has been criminally charged in the November 2016 clash that severely injured Sophia Wilansky, 21, of New York. She has sued law enforcement officers and Morton County, alleging police intentionally targeted her with a concussion grenade. Officers have denied wrongdoing.
Federal authorities arrested fellow protester Steve Martinez on Feb. 3 for contempt of court, according to his attorneys, who said his detainment is tied to Wilansky's lawsuit and government attempts to blame protesters, the Bismarck Tribune reported. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme did not respond to a Bismarck Tribune request for comment.
In 2016 and 2017, American Indian tribes and environmental advocates tried unsuccessfully to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River, fearing an oil leak would contaminate the water. Pipeline operator Energy Transfer and federal officials who approved the $3.8 billion line maintain it's safe. The pipeline has been moving Bakken oil since June 2017.
More than 750 people were arrested during six months of protests. On Nov. 20, 2016, protesters tried to push past a blocked highway bridge but were turned back by authorities with tear gas, rubber bullets and water sprays. Police say protesters threw rocks and other objects at officers.
Wilansky's left arm was injured in an explosion and her father said at the time that doctors considered amputation because her forearm was nearly torn off.
Protesters allege the blast was caused by a concussion grenade thrown by officers; police say protesters rigged a propane canister to explode. So far, neither theory has been proven.
Martinez, 46, was subpoenaed in December 2016 to go before a grand jury and provide testimony and items including photos, according to documents provided by his attorneys. He didn't cooperate, saying he believed authorities were trying to suppress the protest movement. Prosecutors later withdrew the subpoena without giving a reason.
Martinez was subpoenaed again last November. He appeared before the grand jury on Feb. 3 and invoked his constitutional right to free speech and assembly and his right to remain silent, his attorneys said. He was found in contempt and could stay behind bars for up to 1 1/2 years — the maximum length of the grand jury proceeding.
“The state should not be intimidating people and trying to blame us for harm they caused,'' he said in a statement from jail. “I didn't want to lose my freedom, but they are not going to break me.''
HONOLULU (AP) — Senators from Hawaii and Alaska on Thursday were elected the chairperson and vice chairperson of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, will serve as chairperson. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, will be vice chairperson.
Both senators emphasized the panel's bipartisan traditions in their first committee hearing in Washington.
Schatz said the federal trust responsibility to American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians should be the guiding light for senators on the committee.
Murkowski vowed to continue to support tribal communities. She said in many states and regions, annual budgets have left native people behind in terms of education, healthcare, public safety and infrastructure.
“There's so much work that we have to do together,'' she told her fellow committee members.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A second former official of a Mississippi Indian tribe and his wife have pleaded guilty in connection with faked travel costs.
Kevin Edwards, 48, and Sheena Edwards, 45, of Walnut Grove, pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring to launder money and are scheduled for sentencing May 11 in Jackson, federal prosecutors said in a news release Friday.
An indictment handed up in September also had charged the couple with defrauding the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians while Kevin Edwards was a member of the tribal council, and with misleading a bank to get loans, prosecutors said.
“As long as public corruption continues to be an issue in our state, I can promise you that the U.S. Attorney's Office will be here to root it out, prosecute it, and ensure that justice is done,” Acting U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca said in the news release.
Another former tribal council member, Randy Lamar Anderson, 46, of Conehatta, pleaded guilty in December to federal wire fraud by forging hotel bills and receipts and submitting them for tribal reimbursement between August 2016 and November 2018. His sentencing is scheduled March 3.
Anderson and the Edwardses each could get as much as 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to prosecutors.
The news release said the Edwardses were accused of forging hotel bills and receipts and submitting them as reimbursement for business travel. The actions allegedly took place between March 2015 and June 2017, the month Kevin Edwards left office, the statement said.
“After receiving the unlawful payments from the tribal government, the two defendants cashed and transferred the payments to multiple bank accounts and paid off personal loans in the name of Sheena Edwards,'' the news release said.