Chase Iron Eyes, a 2016 North Dakota Democratic congressional nominee, was in court Wednesday at the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan, North Dakota, to fight charges stemming from protests of the Dakota Access pipeline.
During Iron Eyes’ appearance, attorneys for Iron Eyes argued that the state of North Dakota was withholding key evidence needed for their defense. According to the Lakota People’s Law Project, the judge upheld the request of Iron Eyes’ defense team.
“Judge Lee Christofferson today upheld earlier rulings that the state of North Dakota, law enforcement agencies and private security contractors must comply with discovery demands from former congressional candidate, Dakota Access pipeline protester and Lakota People's Law Project attorney, Chase Iron Eyes,” said the release.
Additionally, the judge admonished the deputy state's attorney Chase Lingle for his previous lack of compliance and ordered Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier to court to testify under oath. The Judge then gave Kirchmeier less than a month to comply with all discovery demands, saying the sheriff must produce an affidavit by the end of April stating that he has done so.
In additional support for Iron Eyes’ defense team, Judge Christofferson ordered militarized security contractor TigerSwan to respond to the defense's discovery demands. The defense will be given 120 days of time for discovery, beginning May 1. The Iron Eyes trial date has now been moved to November 5.
In a news release, Iron Eyes said he was pleased with the decision.
“We hoped for an encouraging outcome today, and we got it. Our liberty depends on our collective ability to stand in protest of injustices and in support of our inherent constitutional, human and environmental rights,” said Iron Eyes. “My personal liberty is also at stake, and I’m proud to stand on the front line of such a critical battle at a pivotal moment in history. This trial can safeguard our right to free speech and assembly. That’s something that’s already great about America, and I mean to make sure it is never compromised.”
Attorneys for Iron Eyes, Standing Rock Sioux, said that “the evidence they were after “is extensive and will exonerate Iron Eyes by clarifying events that took place prior to or on the day of his arrest in February, 2017.”
Daniel Sheehan, the chief counsel of the Lakota People’s Law Project that represents Iron Eyes said in a release the state is months late in gathering and turning over evidence required for his team to present a “necessity defense” for his client.
Sheehan also said he was encouraged by the ruling.
“We’re elated that Judge Christofferson upheld the court’s prior decisions. In order for real justice to be served, it’s imperative that all those involved in the policing of Standing Rock during the pipeline protests be held to full account. We must be allowed to gather all available information and documentation as a crucial first step in that process, and we couldn’t be happier that our right to do so will be vigorously enforced. At the trial in November, we look forward to presenting a complete picture of what really happened at Standing Rock.”
“We had a hearing before Judge David Nelson on Nov. 3. The State was given until Dec. 31 to provide our requested documents,” said Sheehan. “And they stiffed us. Our opinion is that, frankly, they are afraid of the necessity defense, and they are jumping through every hoop to try to stop it.”
The evidence requested by Iron Eyes’ legal team include internal memos between law enforcement agencies and TigerSwan, a subcontracted security firm that allegedly operated in North Dakota without a license and were hired by the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners. TigerSwan is facing civil litigation for whether they were able to operate without a license, the court date is October 8th.
Internal memos published by the investigative website The Intercept allege that TigerSwan led a violent anti-protest campaign labeling protesters as “jihadist” and “terrorists.”
Moving forward with the case
Using the necessity defense, the defense says they will argue that any actions Iron Eyes took during the protests were necessary to prevent a greater harm.
Using the necessity defense has been successful as a defense for pipeline and other climate-related protestors. A judge in Massachusetts recently found a group of pipeline protesters in Boston ‘not responsible by reason of necessity.’
“This legal defense is gaining momentum,” Sheehan said. “In our case, it’s a potential landmark for our legal system. We want every climate advocate, every Native rights advocate and every advocate for the Constitution to have this defense at his or her disposal to protest injustices in this nation.”
“I’m entitled to a fair trial under the United States Constitution,” said Iron Eyes in a release. “If the prosecution is unwilling to pursue and turn over required evidence, I’m being denied my constitutional rights. The process so far shows a continuation of the pattern of denying rights to Native people. But I have faith in our judicial system, and I’m hopeful that Wednesday will be a watershed moment for this trial and our movement as a whole.”
According to South Central Judicial District trial court administrator Donna Wunderlich, she confirmed that Iron Eyes’ case is one of 171 still open from the Dakota Access pipeline protests, which ended more than a year ago. To date, 543 cases have been completed. According to Sheehan, all but a few have ended in acquittals, dismissals of all charges, or deferrals of all charges.
Chase Iron Eyes appeared at the Morton County Courthouse on April 4.
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