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Cops Call Pipeline Protest 'Riot,' While Tribe Decries 'Strong-Arm Tactics'

Loren Bagola, from the Sheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, helps handle security Oct. 24, 2016, at the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest in southern North Dakota. (AP Photo/Blake Nicholson)

Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters attacked a helicopter with a drone, fired arrows at another chopper, established an illegal roadblock on the highway access to the pipeline construction site, and illegally occupied private property moving building tents and teepees on a DAPL construction site in North Dakota on Sunday.

Another drone flew over officers, in violation of FAA rules, according to a statement from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. That’s when law enforcement personnel opened fire with “less than lethal ammunition” to knock the unmanned aircraft out of the sky.

“The FAA has strict guidelines and regulations governing the use of drones around unprotected people and manned aircraft,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier.

Protesters, who claim drinking water and cultural artifacts are threatened by the project, have been trying to block since August the construction of a $3.8 billion pipeline that would run through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said they’re protesting within their rights and it’s the “militarization” of law enforcement that’s causing problems.

The arrest total Saturday was 126 people. One more was busted Sunday for what the Morton County Sheriff’s Department termed “illegal protest activities.” That brought the total number of arrests since the protest started in August to 269.

The sheriff’s department released a YouTube video over the weekend in which the protesters are warned to break down the barricade they had built to block Highway 1806, the road providing access to the construction site.

“If something happens, you will be liable. I’m worried about the people in Standing Rock needing emergency services and that includes everybody right here,” Sheriff Kirchmeier said Saturday. “You need to clear this up because if anything would happen – medically, fire, emergency services – we have to be able to get through.”

Angry protesters refused and a weekend of violence began.

Morton County Sheriff’s Capt. Bryan Niewind said more than a dozen of the protesters who were arrested for trespassing on the pipeline construction site Oct. 22 slashed the tires of a vehicle to disable it. Four of them chained themselves to the truck.

One of the protesters stuck his arm through a hole that was cut in a passenger door of the vehicle and then pushed his arm into a barrel of hardened cement, according to a sheriff’s department press release.

Niewind told reporters that when his officers arrived on the scene, the demonstrators turned aggressive and abusive, and the protest on Highway 1806 officially became a riot.

After the arrests of 10 people standing outside the disabled vehicle and the four who had attached themselves to the truck, Niewind said another crowd of protesters walked three miles down the pipeline route and confronted sheriff’s deputies who were tasked with protecting pipeline equipment.

“We heard people in the crowd shouting, ‘flank, flank,’” Niewind said. “There were actually trying to flank our location, which was a very rural, very open location.”

He said the protesters were able to outflank the deputies and marched for another mile before law enforcement officers could get ahead of them.

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said at least 300 people had confronted the outnumbered deputies before the situation was brought under control.

Niewind said pepper spray was used on the protesters and those who tried to resist arrest were thrown to the ground. But although protest leaders accused the deputies of hitting people with their batons, Niewind said there were no “baton strikes.”

However, he said batons were used to push and control the “mob.”

“These individuals know they are criminally trespassing. They know they are engaged in a protest that is unlawful,” Niewind said. “They know what they can legally do and cannot do. They are creating chaos. They are creating a dangerous environment for themselves and for law enforcement and they are intentionally doing so.”

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, though, said “the militarization of local law enforcement and enlistment of multiple law enforcement agencies from neighboring states is needlessly escalating violence and unlawful arrests against peaceful protesters at Standing Rock.”

“We do not condone reports of illegal actions, but believe the majority of peaceful protesters are reacting to strong-arm tactics and abuses by law enforcement,” Archambault said in a statement. “Thousands of water protectors have joined the Tribe in solidarity against DAPL, without incident or serious injury. Yet, North Dakota law enforcement have proceeded with a disproportionate response to their nonviolent exercise of their First Amendment rights, even going as far as labeling them rioters and calling their every action illegal.”

The chairman blamed state officials for failing to protect the protesters, which he said reflected “not only the unjust historical narrative against Native Americans, but a dangerous trend in law enforcement tactics across America.”

Archambault called upon the Justice Department to step in with “an injunction to all developments at the pipeline site to keep ALL citizens – law enforcement and protesters – safe.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch reportedly rejected a request from the National Sheriffs’ Association to meet with Sheriff Kirchmeier and law enforcement officials from jurisdictions along the pipeline route

One source told the Daily Caller that Lynch also ordered the North Dakota U.S. Attorney to stay away from the protest scene.

“Sheriffs are in the middle of a storm with limited help,” said the source.

One of the law enforcement officials in that storm, Kirchmeier said there should be no doubt about the intentions of many of the demonstrators after the Saturday “riot.”

He said it clearly illustrates that the pipeline protest is neither peaceful nor lawful.

“It was obvious to our officers who responded that the protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior during this event,” Kirchmeier said. “This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”

The Standing Rock tribal chairman said the Justice Department “should be enlisted and expected to investigate the overwhelming reports and videos demonstrating clear strong-arm tactics, abuses and unlawful arrests by law enforcement.”

“Preventing government agencies from stripping protesters and tribal members of their constitutional rights to organize and protect our sacred places and water is paramount to both U.S. citizens and tribal sovereignty,” Archambault said.