Protesters attached to equipment

Three protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline project attached themselves to large excavators in September at a worksite northwest of Almont near Interstate 94 and County Road 86 in Morton County.

A judge ordered a prosecutor Tuesday to inquire after memos from a private security firm working for the Dakota Access Pipeline that might relate to a protester's criminal case. 

Judge Allan Schmalenberger ruled in court that Morton County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Grosinger needed to ask TigerSwan for information pertaining to the arrest of Nicholas Tilsen on Sept. 14.

Tilsen allegedly used a "sleeping dragon" — a device made of metal pipe that activists use to hook themselves to equipment — to lock onto a track hoe at a pipeline worksite near New Salem. He is accused of endangering the lives of law enforcement officers, who used power tools to cut him off. 

Schmalenberger's order came after a request from defense attorneys Chad Nodland and Bruce Ellison, who argued that the relationship between the company and local police was "hand in glove," noting that the two apparently shared information, radio frequencies and physical space at a joint information center. For that reason, they should be entitled to information collected by TigerSwan about Tilsen, they argued.

"The line between (Energy Transfer Partner's) private security forces and law enforcement has been erased," Nodland wrote.

Nodland is seeking information pertinent to Tilsen's arrest. He also asked for the source of a statement in a Nov. 5 Tigerswan situation report that said law enforcement had a way to cut down protesters "safely and efficiently." Prosecutors have argued in court that the process is very dangerous. This report was first made public by Intercept, an online investigative news outlet. 

Tilsen, 34, is a housing activist and founder of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corp. on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He is scheduled for trial alongside Daniel Tseleie.

Grosinger resisted Tilsen's motion, saying that Nodland was overstating the relationship between private security and local law enforcement. In a written brief, he argued that Dakota Access was a victim in the case and gets certain rights and privileges.

"There is nothing improper about a victim coordinating with the law enforcement agencies that are there for their protection as citizens and as taxpayers," he said. "It is also expected that law enforcement receive any information that could be given about where to expect trouble in the future. The fact that the victim is a corporation does not give a defendant unrestricted access to all of the victim's affairs."

Private security's role would have been limited to the initial report and incident, according to Grosinger, who added that speculation about the relationship between law enforcement and DAPL was without merit.

If Grosinger is unable to retrieve reports from TigerSwan, the defense can subpoena it, Schmalenberger said. The judge also asked the prosecutor to track down more potential witnesses and further video from law enforcement trainings regarding cutting protesters from equipment.

Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com

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