On Monday, the Water Protectors Legal Collective (WPLC) — the legal support team behind the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline — filed a class action lawsuit against Morton County, the Morton County Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies for use of excessive force against Water Protectors.
The violence occurred on the night of Sunday, November 20, when a peaceful demonstration by Water Protectors was met with police brutality. “Sunday night was horrendous display of the Morton County Sheriff Department’s disregard for human life,” said Angela Bibens, the ground coordinator for the legal team and a Santee Dakota, in an interview.
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In a press release, the WPLC describes the event, saying, “Without giving any warnings or opportunity to disperse, officers fired on [Water Protectors] with highly dangerous munitions, chemical agents, a water cannon and hoses in freezing weather. More than 200 Water Protectors were injured.” This occurred on a bridge within the boundaries of Native treaty lands.
Perhaps the most publicized of the night’s injuries was that of Sophia Wilansky, whose arm was badly injured — up to the point of possible amputation — after being hit by an explosive. But she was not the only one who suffered harm. The WPLC describes the injuries inflicted on those who are now the class representatives for the lawsuit:
Vanessa Dundon of the Navajo Nation was hit in the eye with a tear gas canister that was shot by police directly at the crowd of Water Protectors. Jade Kalikolehuaokakalani Wool had two grenades blow up near her head, knocking her down, burning her face and sending shrapnel into it, and causing her to be hospitalized. Crystal Wilson was shot with a water cannon, tear gassed and shot with a munition. David Demo was filming police when, without warning, they shot him with a water cannon and then in the hand with a munition. He was hospitalized with broken bones and was told he would need reconstructive surgery. Gary Dullknife III saw a Water Protector knocked to the ground by a water cannon. As police sprayed her on the ground, he tried to move her away. He was shot in the chest, stomach and leg by impact munitions. Mariah Marie Bruce was peacefully protesting when police sprayed her with water cannons. She was then hit in the genitals with a grenade, and was hospitalized. Frank Finan was taking pictures when he was shot in the abdomen and knocked to the ground by a rubber bullet. Israel Hoagland-Lynn tried to help two people who had been shot with water cannons and rubber bullets and was shot in the back of his head by an impact munition. He lost consciousness, was hospitalized, and needed 17 staples for a head wound. Noah Michael Treanor, while praying, was shot by the water hoses or cannon. Once on the ground, he was shot in the head by an impact munition. Bleeding badly, he was hospitalized.
Rachel Lederman, a WPLC lawyer, said, “The civil rights violations that night were deliberate and punitive. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department’s illegal use of force against the Water Protectors has been escalating. It is only a matter of luck that no one has been killed. This must stop.”