What was perhaps the most serious criminal case derived from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests has reached its long awaited conclusion.
U.S. District of North Dakota Chief Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced Red Fawn Fallis on Wednesday in Bismarck's federal court to 57 months in federal prison with credit for time served, followed by three years supervised release.
Fallis was accused of firing a handgun three times as officers tried to arrest her on Oct. 27, 2016--one of the most chaotic days of the monthslong protests in southern Morton County.
Fallis, 39, has been held in custody for about 20 months, but won't receive credit for about three months she spent at a halfway house in Fargo due to a violation of her pretrial release. Her case has been one of the most high profile of the hundreds charged from the protests, with a full gallery at Wednesday's sentencing and previous hearings.
Fallis' legal team called four witnesses, including neurophysiological and psychological experts who testified to Fallis' mental condition relating to childhood trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and other experiences.
Her sister, Red Dawn Foster, described her family and relationship history, which she said included domestic violence. Fallis' uncle, Glenn Morris, discussed her plans and potential for the future in their Denver community.
Wednesday's hearing went later than anticipated, ending just before 7 p.m. Hovland allowed for court staff to make arrangements for staying late. Fallis' attorneys also cut one witness.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hagler recommended seven years in prison, including five years for civil disorder and two years for possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, due to the "nature and circumstances of the offense."
Defense attorney Molly Armour asked for 24 to 30 months with credit for time at the halfway house, and emphasized rehabilitation and treatment for Fallis.
"We have someone who is on the precipice of great things," Armour said, referencing Fallis' use of her time in custody, during which she volunteered and sought a GED.
When allowed to speak, Fallis said she feels remorse for what happened.
"I'm sorry for what the officers had to go through because of my choices, and there's not a day I don't pray for them," she told Hovland. She also addressed her wishes for the future, to build a program to "revitalize" relationships between tribal elders and youth.
"No matter where I go from here, I'm going to continue going forward," said Fallis, wearing a ribbon dress and shackles.
Hovland said he will recommend she be placed in a federal prison in Phoenix or Tucson, and ordered her to participate in any treatment or counseling recommended by the federal probation office.
Attorneys also argued over the appropriate sentencing guidelines. Hovland said he's never had a case involving a plea agreement where the parties could not agree on any specific sentencing guideline that applies.
Fallis took a plea deal in January in which she pleaded guilty to the two charges while prosecutors agreed to ask to dismiss the most serious offense, discharge of a firearm in relation to a felony crime of violence, which Hovland did.
What will perhaps always remain a question is the reason for the gunshots at the core of the case.
"I'm not going to go down that path, try to determine what Ms. Fallis' intent was when that firearm was discharged on Oct. 27," Hovland said.
Fallis' attorneys questioned neurophysiologist Roger Enoka about "unintentional discharge" and "reactive grip response" playing a role in Fallis' case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme disputed the claim, based on the position of Fallis' body, the pressure needed to pull a trigger and the succession of gunshots.
Hovland said Fallis has 14 days to file a notice of appeal from when he signs her criminal judgment Thursday morning. He also commended the attorneys in the case for their "excellent" briefs and "top notch" advocacy.
"I take every case seriously. I believe this is a serious case," Hovland said. "I try to do what's fair and just."
Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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