• Morton County is charging 23-year-old Lawrence Malcolm with several charges related to protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline
  • Authorities say Malcolm’s DNA was found on a cigarette butt from a protest on September 6, 2016
  • While the majority of criminal cases related to protests have been resolved several lawsuits continue to move forward

Three years after a protest in Morton County, North Dakota, against the Dakota Access Pipeline 23-year-old Lawrence Malcolm Jr is being charged with felony conspiracy to commit criminal mischief and a misdemeanor count of engaging in a riot.

Three Years And Two Cigarette Butts Later Lawrence Malcolm Is Charged

Authorities say two cigarette butts collected from what authorities refer to as a “riot” on September 6, 2016, led to a warrant for Malcolm’s arrest. An arrest warrant was issued for Malcolm who is reported to live in Sisseton, South Dakota.

According to court documents, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents were called and assisted the Morton County Sheriff’s Department at a construction site on County Road 135. Two protesters — more commonly referred to as ‘water protectors’ — locked themselves to heavy equipment while over 100 water protectors shut down construction and allegedly vandalized equipment. Court documents claim the damage to the equipment was estimated to be “into the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” The Bismarck Tribune reported.

BCI gathered evidence from the scene after the incident that included the two cigarette butts. The butts were sent to the State Crime Lab for analysis. The BCI was notified that one of the butts contained DNA from Malcolm in August. Malcolm’s DNA was already on file from a previous arrest related to the No DAPL protests. Authorities say many of the water protectors had their faces covered. When reviewing video and photographs from the protest Malcolm was not seen, leading authorities to believe he is one of the people that had their face covered.

Hundreds Of Arrests And 850 Criminal Cases

In February the Star Tribune reported the majority of state-level criminal cases were finally wrapping up. Over a six month period where thousands gathered in opposition to the $3.8 billion pipeline, hundreds were arrested and the small North Dakota courts were crippled by nearly 850 criminal cases. While the vast majority of criminal cases have concluded, several lawsuits in federal court related to the No DAPL protests remain open.

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Sioux Tribes Continue To Fight DAPL In Federal Court

The Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Yankton and Oglala Sioux are currently suing to shut down the pipeline. In June of this year, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to turn over documents to the four tribes. The tribes claim the Corps produced a “fragmented and incomplete record” to justify the approval of the pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline began carrying oil from North Dakota to Illinois in June 2017. The tribes believe the Corps were deceitful and possess documents that show how the pipeline threatens the Lake Oahe reservoir on the Missouri River.

Also in June, the company behind DAPL, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners announced plans to double the capacity of the pipeline. The pipeline’s capacity is 500,000 barrels per day but ETP wants to expand the capacity to as much as 1.1 million barrels a day. It was reported that ETP told the North Dakota Public Service Commission in a letter that expansion would let them meet growing demand without additional pipelines or rail shipments. The company plans to ship more oil to the Gulf Coast.

Water Protectors Sue Morton County Law Enforcement

Water protectors have filed a civil rights class-action lawsuit against authorities in Morton County during the protest for their use of force on November 20, 2016. On that night, millions of people watched as Morton County blasted water protectors with water in below-freezing temperatures during a prayer. According to the Civil Liberties Defense Center, the tactic is “an act deemed illegal and morally intolerable since the 1960’s civil rights era.” In an statement from 2016, the CLDC claims “chemical foggers were sprayed into the crowd, CS gas (teargas) canisters were launched out of high powered weapons, grenades were aimed at peoples’ heads, and the relentless icy force of high pressured fire hoses were continuously used as a form of crowd control for over 5 hours.”

Law enforcement officers were also firing rubber bullets at the crowd, some of which were trapped on a public bridge due to the police escalation and overzealous use of force. It was on this night 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky almost had her left arm blown off after an explosive device allegedly thrown by law enforcement blew up next to her. Law enforcement has tried to argue Wilansky’s injuries came from a propane canister water protectors rigged to blow. The claim has been heavily disputed by water protectors on the scene. Another female water protector, Vanessa Dundon almost lost her eye after being shot in the face with a tear gas canister. Along with the two women, over 300 injuries were reported by water protectors who were attacked while praying during the November clash.

North Dakota Is Suing The Federal Government

In July, North Dakota sued the federal government in an attempt to recover the $38 million the state spent policing the months of protests against DAPL. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed the claim in Bismarck federal court after the Corps ignored an administrative claim last year. Stenehjem claims the Corps “allowed and sometimes encouraged” water protectors to illegally camp without the necessary federal permits. The Corps claims water protectors were not evicted from the area due to First Amendment rights. “When the protesters finally left, they left behind a spoiled environment and a vast quantity of dangerous waste, garbage and debris that had to be cleaned up by the state at considerable cost,” Stenehjem told reporters.

Last year President Donald Trump denied a state-requested disaster declaration to cover the state’s costs on law enforcement. Later, the Justice Department gave the state a $10 million grant for policing-related bills. ETP also gave the state $15 million to help with costs funded from loans received from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

ETP Lawsuit Against Environmental Groups Dismissed

In February, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit ETP filed against the environmental protection group Greenpeace, along with other environmental groups. ETP accused the groups of racketeering and defamation with the aim of shutting down construction of DAPL. The oil giant claimed the groups did billions of dollars in damages to the company through negative publicity towards them and sister firms such as Energy Transfer Equity LP. ETP said they were disappointed with the case being dismissed but planned to pursue their claims in an “appropriate venue.” The company did not go into any detail on what that meant.

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