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Judge dismisses lawsuit alleging excessive force, rights violation at DAPL protest site

Judge dismisses lawsuit alleging excessive force, rights violation at DAPL protest site

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A federal judge in North Dakota has thrown out an Oklahoma man’s complaint alleging law enforcement officers during the evacuation of a Dakota Access Pipeline protest site in 2017 used excessive force against him.

It's the second such lawsuit to be dismissed in recent weeks.

Eric Poemoceah filed the complaint in April against Morton County, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney, Bismarck Police Officer Benjamin Swenson, Highway Patrol Lt. Thomas Iverson and others. He sought unspecified money damages.

Poemoceah claimed he was tackled while running from law enforcement in February 2017 and suffered a broken pelvis. He further alleged officers ignored his injury and that their acts were retaliation against him for exercising his rights by filming activities during the protest.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor last Tuesday dismissed the complaint with prejudice -- a legal term that means the case cannot be brought again. Poemoceah knew the officers were at the protest site to enforce an evacuation order, admitted that he advanced on the officers before fleeing, and failed to show that Morton County had unconstitutional policies in place, the judge said.

Poemoceah in his complaint stated that officers who forced him to walk 200 feet to a police van knew or should have known he had a broken hip or pelvis. Traynor said Poemoceah's pleas for medical attention were not ignored, adding that even medical staff at a Bismarck hospital did not discover the pelvic fracture and diagnosed him with minor contusions.

Kirchmeier in a statement said he was pleased with the court’s determination that the level of force used by law enforcement during Poemoceah’s arrest was “reasonable and constitutional.”

“Law enforcement officers acted with professionalism and diligence to maintain peace and order under very difficult circumstances,” Kirchmeier said.

The Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Oregon, the organization representing Poemoceah, did not immediately respond to email and telephone requests for comment.

Traynor earlier in December threw out the lawsuit of an Arizona man, Marcus Mitchell, who claimed officers injured him and violated his civil rights in January 2017. Mitchell was backed by the Chicago-based MacArthur Justice Center.

At least one other lawsuit lingers. Nine protesters who sued in November 2016 allege violations of their civil rights due to officers’ tactics including the use of tear gas and water sprays.

Law enforcement has denied using excessive force against the thousands of pipeline opponents who camped near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016 and 2017 to protest construction of the $3.8 billion project built by Texas-based Energy Transfer to move North Dakota oil to Illinois. Authorities allege some protesters used violent and illegal tactics and assaulted officers. The protests resulted in 761 arrests over a six-month span.

Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com

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