Chase Iron Eyes

Chase Iron Eyes arrived for a hearing in the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan in March 2017. He entered a not guilty plea to inciting a riot, a disputed characterization of an anti-pipeline demonstration that took place in southern Morton County.

A prominent figure of the Dakota Access protests will ask a judge next week to allow a necessity defense claiming the perceived threat of the pipeline left him no choice to commit his alleged crimes.

Attorney Chase Iron Eyes, also a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member and North Dakota's 2016 Democratic House candidate, is charged with felony inciting a riot and misdemeanor criminal trespass. He has pleaded innocent.

Judge David Nelson will hear his case for a necessity defense at a Nov. 3 hearing. Defense attorney Daniel Sheehan will make the case that the pipeline's impact to Iron Eyes' community forced him to resist the project as he did.

"Given the Dakota Access Pipeline’s imminent threat to my tribe’s and my family’s only water supply, I ultimately had no choice but to resist on the front lines,” Iron Eyes said. "Pipelines spill all too often, and our efforts to stop DAPL's construction were thwarted by President Trump’s illegal intervention to cancel the environmental impact statement that the Army Corps of Engineers had decided to prepare."

Necessity defenses have recently been invoked in other pipeline cases, including Michael Foster, who was convicted this month of crimes related to his shutdown of the Keystone pipeline near Walhalla last year. 

A judge denied his necessity defense, which claimed the threat of climate change forced him to shut off the tar sands oil pipeline.

Meanwhile, a Minnesota judge allowed the same defense for two other "valve turners," who also targeted pipelines last year.

"Given global warming and the deleterious impacts on the environment from the fossil fuel industry, embodied here by the Dakota Access Pipeline, and given the pipeline’s threat of imminent harm to the people of Standing Rock and millions of others downstream, we feel Chase was fully justified in undertaking his prayerful vigil on the front lines," Sheehan said.

Iron Eyes faces up to five years in prison, if convicted. He is scheduled for a felony jury trial fon Feb. 8.

HolyElk Lafferty, a Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member arrested with Iron Eyes in February, will also ask for a similar defense later next month, attorney Lanny Sinkin said.

"Our peaceful and prayerful stand did no harm to anyone, especially when measured against the harm these projects pose to our planet’s well-being, and the chance of future generations to live healthy lives," Iron Eyes said. "I did what I had to do."

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.