A journalist was arrested Wednesday while covering a pipeline protest for an investigative news outlet, in an incident she said was a shock that came while doing her job, but police say was the result of her disobeying multiple orders to leave private property.
Jenni Monet, 40, was charged with two misdemeanors — engaging in a riot and criminal trespass — along with 73 others arrested as law enforcement cleared a short-lived camp on land authorities say belongs to the pipeline company but protesters claimed as treaty land. She was held in jail for about 24 hours before her editor could post $500 bond.
Monet has covered the Standing Rock protests since September for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Indian Country Media Network, PBS Newshour and High Country News. A 2012 graduate of Columbia Journalism School, the Laguna Pueblo journalist rents a home about 30 minutes from the camps in order to cover the extended protests. She is a frequent fixture at the protest camps, tribal headquarters, Cannon Ball and state and police press conferences in the Bismarck-Mandan area.
When Monet woke up Wednesday morning, she was not planning to go to the camps. But sources were texting her and saying police were likely to raid.
"You need to be here," sources told her. She drove over and scaled the hill where dozens of people had set up a new camp with a sacred fire and a semi-circle of teepees. The protesters' idea was to move to higher ground on treaty land and stand, arms locked in resistance.
After failed negotiations with protesters, police surrounded and scaled the hill in order to evict them. Monet said in an interview Monday that she met an officer, who asked her for a press pass then told her to step aside once she showed one. She hovered around the protest to take some notes and photos before turning to go back down the hill, she said.
"I never felt like I overstepped my bounds there," Monet said.
As she started walking down the hill, her head was full of impending deadlines and logistics. Then another officer approached her and said she had been told repeatedly to leave and was under arrest.
Monet recalls telling the officer, as he fumbled with the flex-cuffs, "maybe you could just not arrest me. I'm a journalist, after all."
"The minute Morton County knew I was a journalist, they should have just let me go," Monet said. "I wasn't there locking arms. I was walking away."
Police put her on a school bus next to Chase Iron Eyes, charged with inciting the riot, to the Morton County Jail. There, she sat in a fenced holding cell for several hours and was met with some ridicule when she asked Capt. Dave Psyck for a phone call, she said. She was strip-searched — or visually assessed, as Psyck calls it — then moved upstairs to a cell with five other women. She said two of the women, both white, said they were not told to bend and cough, which raised concerns for her about racial bias within the jail.
Monet's arrest has drawn the ire of national groups protecting journalists' rights and local advocates.
“(The) unlawful arrest of Native journalist Jenni Monet by Morton County officers is patently illegal and a blatant betrayal of our closely held American values of free speech and a free press,” Bryan T. Pollard, president of the Native American Journalists Association, told Indian Country Media Network.
"I could see how she could get caught up in a sweep," said Mark Trahant, a journalism professor at the University of North Dakota and friend of Monet. "What I don't see is, once it became clear who she is, the system should have kicked in."
But law enforcement said they gave her a special opportunity to leave then treated her as everyone else in the jail.
North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson said he met Monet on scene Wednesday and told her to leave at least five times. He said she was not able to produce a media credential when asked. Other media on scene were not arrested, because they left when told, he said. Later, he saw another officer arresting her.
"I understand you're a journalist, but you're on private property and need to leave," Iverson recalls telling her. "If she's claiming she wasn't warned, that's absolutely not true."
And Psyck defends her treatment at the jail as the best that can be done during a mass arrest.
"Everyone is entitled to a phone call," he said. But when a 42-bed jail has dozens waiting in holding cells in garages, it's not possible to get them upstairs to a phone, he said. "One person's idea of reasonable and another person's idea of reasonable is a different thing."
He also doesn't believe anyone was treated differently based on race or being a journalist: In so far as someone is in an orange uniform, they have undergone a strip search.
"Like when Dave Archambault II or Chase Iron Eyes, any of these guys, when they came in," Psyck said. "Everyone else is treated the same as they are."
Monet is not the first journalist to be arrested covering the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. At least seven others have been arrested in the course of their reporting. Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, was charged with criminal trespass and rioting, but those charges were dropped.