The state licensing board for private security has opened investigations into whether the security officers who clashed with pipeline protesters Saturday were licensed and if their use of force was appropriate.
Monte Rogneby, counsel for the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board, said Friday the investigations were started in response to complaints received, including some specifically in reference to the dogs, which allegedly bit protesters.
The incident occurred at a worksite for the Dakota Access Pipeline where workers were bulldozing what the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said was a sacred site, according to court documents filed the previous day. Protesters entered the site and clashed with private security guards. Three guards were reported injured, and several protesters said they were pepper-sprayed and bitten by dogs handled by the security personnel.
Rogneby said the board has not yet identified the private security personnel and agencies working there at the time. The board is trying to figure out who they were and whether they are authorized to work in North Dakota.
If it turns out the security personnel were not registered, the board can issue a cease-and-desist letter or pursue court action to stop their work. Those companies also could face potential fines.
Rogneby said there are no state standards governing the use of dogs or registration requirements. The board is investigating the incident with guidance from the state's laws on appropriate use of force when protecting people and property.
Pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners LP did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
The Morton County Sheriff's Department is also investigating the incident with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
Spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said the department is reviewing pictures and videos from that day. She said arrests and charges for protesters and security personnel could come in the future. No arrests were made Saturday.
Preskey said she was not familiar with the licensing board's investigation.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota has criticized the private security company's handling of the incident, comparing the use of dogs and pepper spray to the civil rights era.
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"Such conduct is escalating an environment already filled with tension and is reminiscent of the shameful tactics used by the Birmingham (Ala.) police against non-violent protesters in the 1960s," Policy Director Jennifer Cook said in a statement.
Rogneby said he did not know how many complaints the board had received. Many have written anonymously or were encouraged to do so through social media.
He was not familiar with an online petition demanding an investigation into the private security company's use of force that has gathered more than 116,000 signatures.
The petition organizer, Matt Hildreth, said the online portal sends an email to the board each time someone joins.
"This is a good sign," Hildreth said when a reporter told him about the investigation. "We'll be waiting to see what the investigation says."
Though Hildreth lives in Ohio, he said he has stayed up to date on the protest through social media and wanted to do something about the footage he saw of Saturday's events.
"I was so mad I couldn’t sleep," he said.
He had started other petitions before, but none had gathered nearly this many signatures.
"People are saying we’re watching and we care about this," he said.
Check back for updates to this story.