A judge dismissed the criminal trespass charges against three pipeline protesters halfway through their jury trial this morning.
According to lawyers in the courtroom, Judge Allan Schmalenberger found the prosecutor had not shown the land was posted or that the protesters had been asked by an authorized person to leave — at least one of which is required to prove criminal trespass.
On Friday morning, a jury was picked and the prosecutor put five highway patrolmen on the stand. After that, the three defense attorneys motioned to get the cases dismissed.
Kent Morrow, who represented one of the women charged, said in an interview after court that the patrolmen testified to people being on private property, but not to anyone with authority over the property telling them to leave.
"The judge said the law and statute is pretty clear," Morrow said.
In his defense, Morton County State's Attorney Brian Grosinger argued in court that the protesters should have known the land was private.
"What I had argued to the judge was I could prove notice by circumstantial evidence," Grosinger said in an interview. "By the circumstances surrounding — considering it was a construction site, the people were wearing masks."
The three Dakota Access Pipeline protesters were among 22 people arrested at a construction site near Almont on Sep. 13. According to an affidavit filed with the charges, a highway patrol captain "advised the protesters they were protesting and subject to arrest."
Bruce Nestor, a Minnesota-based attorney representing some pipeline protesters, recently got three trespass cases from the same day dismissed on similar grounds after filing a motion.
Watching the trial today, Nestor said: "This was the same thing, except here the state wasted the judge's time, the jury's time and brought six highway troopers in from their normal duties to spend half a day at the Morton County Courthouse."
Grosinger said he would work to prove notice more adequately in future trials.
Schmalenberger is a retired judge assisting with DAPL-related cases in Morton County.