Morton County prosecutors appear to have quit recharging protesters after they dismiss cases for lack of evidence.
A review of court records indicate no new charges were filed from June and July against Dakota Access Pipeline opponents, who were arrested on Oct. 22 and Oct. 27 — two of the most contentious days during the protests — and whose cases were dismissed at the request of prosecutors.
This represents a reversal from April and May, when the Morton County State's Attorney's Office dismissed and recharged 39 cases from Oct. 10 and Oct. 22. Defense attorneys criticized the practice as a way of coercing people to plead guilty.
Prosecutors did not respond to an email and handwritten message left at the office for comment.
Motions entered by the prosecutors do leave open the possibility of new charges.
"Due to the concern the state cannot meet the elements of the offenses as charged, at present" is how many of the motions read.
And people already recharged from those dates have warrants or upcoming court dates.
In June and July, most cases set for trial were dismissed at the request of the prosecutors or by a judge. In total, 71 of 101 cases closed were the result of dismissals with no new charges filed. Four people had cases dismissed, but were already recharged from May. Sixteen people pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for deferred sentences and fines, two people were found guilty at trial and one person took a pretrial diversion. In addition, seven people were acquitted at trial.
Meanwhile, 10 people had warrants issued for their arrest, because they did not appear at court dates.
Most of the cases handled derive from Oct. 22 and Oct. 27.
On Oct. 22, several people locked themselves to pipeline equipment in Morton County. In solidarity, a group of more than 200 people marched toward the site across private property. Police allege the protesters ripped survey stakes from the ground and yelled at law enforcement when they were told to leave. A total of 126 protesters were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and engaging in a riot, when police surrounded the group.
Prosecutors took several of those cases to trial, and most were dismissed by a judge for lack of evidence.
On Oct. 27, law enforcement evicted protesters from a northern camp established atop the pipeline route on Dakota Access property, which they claimed as treaty land. During the hours-long confrontation, some protesters prayed while other set fires and threw objects at police, who responded with pepper spray and less lethal bullets.
A total of 147 people were arrested, but no cases from the date have yet gone to trial. Several people faces felony charges in federal court, including one woman for allegedly firing a gun at police and five others for allegedly starting fires that day.
In total, 327 of 843 state-level cases have been closed, according to court records. Among the cases, 158 people have active warrants. There is one case on appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court.