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Journalist Amy Goodman, center, speaks to supporters gathered in Mandan in front of the Morton County Courthouse before learning the riot charge against her was dismissed by a South Central District judge on Monday. The Democracy Now reporter was working as a clash between Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and private security for the pipeline company broke out at a construction site in Morton County in September.

The evidence against a journalist accused, and subsequently cleared, of rioting amounted to her own video footage, security video of her following protesters and the testimony of a private security officer who said she riled people up, court documents show. 

A private K9 officer told police that Amy Goodman, a reporter for Democracy Now, who covered a clash between protesters and private security, "was trying to get the protesters riled and get the protesters to go up closer to security officers" in moments when her camera was not rolling, according to a supporting affidavit submitted by prosecutor Ladd Erickson to Judge John Grinsteiner on Friday.

Goodman's attorney, Tom Dickson, called the evidence against her "pretty one-sided."

"They were trying to trump up a criminal charge against a reporter based upon a private security canine officer," he said Tuesday.

After reviewing the documents, Grinsteiner did not find probable cause that Goodman or four other people had engaged in a riot, and Goodman was cleared of charges on Monday. Grinsteiner found probable cause against one person named in the complaint, who is accused of physically fighting with a security guard.

The supporting affidavit describes the evidence collected in a Bureau of Criminal Investigations probe into a clash between Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and private security, some of whom had dogs, at an active construction site on Sept. 3. The evidence against the group consists of Goodman's footage, video taken by security guards and a helicopter, statements from security guards and videos posted by protesters online.

Aside from descriptions of interviews done by Goodman with protesters, the affidavit includes no interviews with the protesters. Cody Hall, a protest organizer from South Dakota who was there, said he was only ever contacted for information about the incident by the Department of Justice.

The complaint against the group alleges that "the defendants, along with five other people, engaged in tumultuous and violent conduct by throwing rocks, breaking fences, pushing, shoving, yelling, threatening security officials and menacing security guards with a pit bull while on private land in an attempt to disrupt construction of the pipeline."

However, only one person named in the complaint is accused of a violent act. 

Hall, who was at the protest, is accused in the affidavit of trying to reach into an officer's pickup — which he refutes — and later praising the event, but was not ultimately charged. 

Hall said that people entered the site in order to protect sacred sites from being bulldozed. 

"You have to meet your prayer halfway with action," he said.

Hall said the group was attacked with dogs and sprayed with pepper spray by guards on scene.

The affidavit said video evidence shows unidentified protesters throwing objects at security officers, swinging sticks at a guard, attempting to hit K9s and laying down in front of a security officer's car to prevent a man from leaving the site. Additionally, a dog handled by a protester can be seen on video lunging towards security guards, according to the affidavit. Police observed a cut on the torso of a security guard, which the man said was from being hit with a flag pole, according to the affidavit.

Hall said any actions against dogs or guards by the protesters were taken in self-defense. 

"Those people that grabbed sticks to hit dogs off of their arms and legs, that is self-defense," he said. "You have to do what you have to do to protect yourself. You can't just let some animal maul you and think that it is rightfully so."

The person accused of a violent act is Jacob Johns, who identifies himself on camera to Goodman. The affidavit alleges he can be seen "physically fighting" with an officer in the video.

There is no attorney listed for Johns, who could not be contacted for this story.

The affidavit also makes clear why criminal trespass charges against Goodman and the five others were dropped: There were problems showing that she and pipeline protesters were adequately warned they were on private property. 

In order to prove criminal trespass, a prosecutor must show that it was posted that the area was private or that a person was specifically warned. The investigator was not sure if there was a "No Trespassing" sign on the fence through which protesters proceeded and security officers were not willing to testify about giving notice to the protesters, due to concerns about their safety, according to the affidavit.

Despite the judge's decision, the Morton County Sheriff's Department said Monday that more charges may be coming in connection with the incidents from Sept. 3.

“After consulting with the Morton County States Attorney, I am assured charges are being considered against these individuals,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier in a statement. “Let me make this perfectly clear, if you trespass on private property, you will be arrested.”

Morton County spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said by email Tuesday that a multi-agency probe into the incident was "close to wrapping up."

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

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