Felony charges against pipeline protesters arrested during the October raid of the northern "front line" camp were dismissed last week by a state judge.
In an order entered in the cases of 124 protesters last week, South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland said Morton County failed to show probable cause that any of the individuals conspired to endanger people or property by fire or explosion during the hours-long confrontation on Oct. 27.
An identical order was first entered on Nov. 17 in the 15 cases assigned to Feland and subsequently applied to the rest of the people charged with conspiracy from that day, according to court records.
"As far as the court can tell from the facts alleged in the affidavit, these fires were set sporadically, at different locations, by different individuals, seemingly at random. The state has not alleged facts sufficient to show an explicit or implicit agreement between the 139 defendants to commit the offense charged," Feland wrote.
Feland has also ordered that reckless endangerment charges against three protesters from that day be dropped. Two people were accused of locking themselves to a car during the raid, and a third was accused of locking herself into concrete in a wooden structure within the camp.
Six people are accused of reckless endangerment on the complaint, but three of them do not have the charge listed in their court records nor do they have felony preliminary hearings scheduled. The Morton County State's Attorney could not be reached for clarification Tuesday, as the courthouse was closed due to weather.
The affidavit filed with the complaint against the 139 protesters explains that the six people were locked onto cars and structures, necessitating help of law enforcement, since they would not unlock themselves, and endangering the lives of officers.
However, Feland said the affidavit failed to connect the dots between the protesters' action and the danger.
“Nothing in the affidavit explains how the defendant in this case created a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to another, other than the officer’s conclusory statement” Feland wrote in an order dismissing the felony reckless endangerment charge against Sydney Johnson, of Ohio. “The court is left to guess exactly what the risk was and to whom the potential for harm was posed.”
Feland dismissed the charge without prejudice, meaning the Morton County State's Attorney could recharge Johnson and the other protester if he can provide probable cause.
In several cases, judges have found probable cause for reckless endangerment charges against pipeline protesters accused of locking themselves to construction equipment, following testimony from officers charged with cutting off the protesters.
Judge John Grinsteiner, for example, found probable cause on Oct. 17 that Corey Maxa recklessly endangered the lives of law enforcement and first responders by attaching himself to construction equipment.
Grinsteiner’s decision came after Mandan Police Lt. Scott Stromstodt testified that in sawing Maxa’s arms free from the equipment, he was in danger of slipping and falling off a ladder, flying sparks from and shards from the grinding tool and electrocution due to water used to protect Maxa from being burned due to the electric saw.