The first people arrested during pipeline protests just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation made their initial court appearances Tuesday morning.
In all, 19 people were called before a judge in Morton County, most for allegations of disorderly conduct on Aug. 11-12, when people demonstrated at a construction site for the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, where drilling under the Missouri River was set to begin, but has since been halted.
Fifteen people pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges and South Central District Judge James Hill set jury trials for December and January. The four others didn't show, and the judge issued warrants for their arrest.
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault II and Councilman Dana Yellowfat, who were initially slated for appearances Tuesday, entered written not guilty pleas to disorderly conduct on Monday.
Had anyone pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a B misdemeanor, Morton County Assistant State's Attorney Gabrielle Goter said she would have recommended a sentence of 30 days in jail, which would be suspended for a period of one year on unsupervised probation. She would have also requested $1,000 paid in restitution to the Morton County Sheriff's Department or in fines.
The maximum penalty for a B misdemeanor is 30 days in jail and $1,500 in fines.
In total, 60 people have been arrested during the protests, including 22 during a protest near Glen Ullin on Tuesday.
A to Z
The Morton County courtroom was full of supporters by 10 a.m. Several hugged or pounded fists with protesters as they walked to and from the defense table.
In order to handle the large number of similar cases, Hill called the protesters up by last name, from A to Z. He explained the defendants' rights to the group at the outset and ran through them briefly again during each person's appearance.
"You have the right to my attention," he told one.
Most asked for court-appointed counsel, except for one who said she would retain her own lawyer and another who wanted to represent himself.
For everyone who appeared, Hill kept bond at the scheduled amounts already posted — $500 for an A misdemeanor and $250 for a B misdemeanor.
"You've shown good faith to be here," he said to several people.
For those who didn't show, the judge revoked the $250 bond.
Reaction to the proceedings
Asked whether she believed the proceedings were fair, Sara Jumping Eagle, who faces a disorderly conduct charge, argued they couldn't be, due to the larger context and what she believes to be an unfair advantage given to the pipeline company.
"It hasn't been fair in all our history, why would we expect it to be fair?" Jumping Eagle asked. "It's hard to say this process is fair when a company who has not complied with federal laws is allowed to continue and go on about their business."
As the last of the group left the courthouse, a number of self-proclaimed water protectors gathered in a group, held signs and sang "peaceful warriors."