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North Dakota court clerk reprimanded for ‘appalling’ Facebook post about pipeline protesters

North Dakota court clerk reprimanded for ‘appalling’ Facebook post about pipeline protesters

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A deputy court clerk in Minot has been reprimanded for a Facebook post that sparked a social media firestorm over her suggestion that American Indians protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline be allowed to “keep their sacred land” and that the government should then “stop all the subsidies and hand outs.”

State Court Administrator Sally Holewa said the North Central Judicial District office in Ward County was inundated with phone calls about the comments posted Sept. 5 by Deputy Court Clerk Kolette Ostlund while she was on vacation.

“We were all just appalled also,” Holewa said. “It definitely does not represent the views of the court.”

Many callers wanted Ostlund fired, and she received at least one death threat and a threatening fax message, both of which were forwarded to the Ward County Sheriff’s Office, Holewa said.

In keeping with the state court system’s internal disciplinary policy, a written letter of reprimand – essentially a warning – was placed in Ostlund’s personnel record when she returned from vacation Thursday, and she was put on a corrective action plan, Holewa said.

The court system plans to work with United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck on a training program to educate all system employees on facts and stereotypes about Native Americans, Holewa said. Ostlund has worked for the court for about 10 years.

“This is absolutely the first instance of any kind of bias from her,” said Holewa, who offered the court system’s “sincere apology” in a Facebook reply to a user who complained about the post.

Ward County District Court Clerk Susan Hoffer said Monday that Ostlund could not speak about personal issues while at work and referred questions to Carolyn Probst, court administrator for the North Central and Northwest judicial districts. Probst said Ostlund declined an interview request from Forum News Service.

“She’s been extremely remorseful, but she’s hesitant to make any statements just because of the sensitive nature of the situation,” Probst said.

Human Resources Director Amy Klein sent an email to all state court employees on Thursday requiring them to review employee code-of-conduct and harassment policies and reply to her email by Sept. 16 to verify they had done so.

Conduct exhibiting prejudice or bias, even if it occurs outside business hours, falls within the scope of the policies and may lead to corrective action, Klein noted.

“People who come into the Court System expect, and deserve, to be treated with dignity and to have their case handled in a fair and impartial manner,” she wrote. “In order for litigants and the public to respect court decisions they must trust that court employees and judges are carrying out their duties without prejudice.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the permit it granted allowing the four-state, $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River less than a mile north of the tribe's reservation. Tribal leaders say the pipeline will destroy sacred sites and threatens their water supply, and that they weren’t properly consulted about the project.

A federal judge Friday denied the tribe’s request for an emergency injunction to halt construction; but the Corps of Engineers, Department of Justice and Department of Interior issued a statement minutes later that they won’t authorize construction of the pipeline on corps land bordering or under the river until further review is completed. The tribe has appealed the judge’s ruling and is seeking an injunction while the appeal is pending.

Ostlund’s Sept. 5 post about the pipeline issue began, “Solution: let them keep their sacred land. Go around their water and burial grounds. It obviously means a lot to them and they should have it… Then… Stop the monthly checks and ALL the government payouts! Stop all the subsidies and hand outs. Done!”

She added, “The government has paid out enough over the last few hundred years. Enough is enough!”

The post was quoted numerous times on Facebook and blogs, with many calling it racist or ignorant. Ostlund’s Facebook page appears to have been deleted, as a search Monday yielded no results -- though it showed nearly 36,000 people were talking about her.

In an undated follow-up post, Ostlund wrote that she had “deleted hundreds, if not thousand (sic), of horrible messages and threats.”

“Again, seriously, So sorry if I offended anyone. I truly thought I had an answer to the problem!” she posted.

Probst said there have been “quite a few inquiries” about the post, which she called “just appalling.” Many calls have gone directly to the court clerks, who were busy with their regular duties.

“It’s very unfortunate, and it’s a poor reflection not only for our unit, our district, but for our state,” she said.

“It’s very unfortunate, and it’s a poor reflection not only for our unit, our district, but for our state.”

Carolyn Probst, court administrator for the North Central and Northwest judicial districts

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