By June Leffler and Cloee Cooper
Co-published by Medill Reports on October 19, 2016.
The words “Sheriff Mahoney, No Pipeline Guards, Bring Them Home” were found chalked outside a sheriff’s office in Madison, WI, last week in response to the deployment of deputies to North Dakota to police the protest of a pipeline that will transport crude oil from North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The words resonated. The deputies came back over the weekend.
The aborted mission undermined recruitment efforts undertaken by the sheriff in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, who recently began asking for support from law enforcement across the nation to come to the area around Standing Rock Sioux reservation, 65 miles south of Bismarck. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier sent out word early in October because he said his office had run out of personnel and time; his deputies have been working overtime and need rest. In response, two groups – the Western States Sheriffs’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association. – pledged to send deputies. Wisconsin and South Dakota are the only states that have sent personnel so far, according to Kirchmeier, who added that he is planning to seek support elsewhere too.
Communities, like Madison, are questioning if the extra manpower is a form of protecting people or big business.
Since April, thousands of Native Americans and supporters have camped close to Standing Rock to protest construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, being built by Energy Transfer Partners. They insist the project disrupts sacred burial sites and could contaminate their water source. On any given day, 2,000-3,000 people are camped out there.
As of now, 142 people have been arrested at the North Dakota protests for trespassing on Dakota Access Pipeline property, damaging equipment and disorderly conduct. The sheriff’s office claims protesters have also assaulted company security. “Divergent” series actress Shailene Woodley and “Democracy Now” reporter Amy Goodman are among those who have been arrested.
Morton County has 34 deputies and has recruited an extra 422 officers and highway patrol troopers from other counties in North Dakota.
Sending support to outside jurisdictions typically happens once a year, according to James Pond, executive director of the Western States Sheriffs’ Association. The last time they responded to an outside call was the Bundy Family occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January, he recalled.
Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney of Madison sent 13 deputies and supervisors to North Dakota on Oct. 9, the same day a federal appeals court rejected a bid by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to halt construction on part of the pipeline.
However, folks back home didn’t like the idea of sending their deputies into the fray. After mounting local pressure, Mahoney decided to bring 13 deputies and supervisors back home Sunday.
Local concern came from people who support the protesters and others who want to keep resources in Dane County, according to sheriff’s department spokeswoman Elise Schaffer.
“We shouldn’t be sending our law enforcement to do security for the pipeline company,” said Madison Alderwoman Rebecca Kemble.
Kemble went to Cannon Ball to hand deliver a resolution approved by the Madison City Council in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s pipeline opposition. While being a legal observer, she said, she was arrested and charged with inciting a riot, resisting arrest, destroying evidence and criminal trespass.
“Why are our deputies going to be on the other side? This community knows the importance of supporting treaty rights, of protecting water and sacred sites. Water defines us.”
This story and others on the Standing Rock-Dakota Access Pipeline controversy have been supported in part by SJNN and the McCormick Foundation.