FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 22, 2022
Contact: Rachel Lederman or Natali Segovia,
Water Protector Legal Collective
Earth Day this year marks an important day for Water Protectors who are still seeking accountability from Morton County and law enforcement for mass human rights violations committed over five years ago at Standing Rock. Today, Water Protectors filed an appeal in the Dundon v. Kirchmeier civil rights case. Dundon v. Kirchmeier is a federal civil rights class-action lawsuit in which six named plaintiffs are seeking redress on behalf of hundreds of #NoDAPL Water Protectors who were injured by law enforcement on the night of November 20, 2016.
On December 29, 2021, the North Dakota District Court threw out the Water Protectors’ lawsuit, finding that law enforcement was justified in unleashing a ten hour long barrage of impact munitions, chemical weapons, explosive grenades and freezing water on unarmed, nonviolent water protectors. The court decision was deeply flawed and let law enforcement off the hook relying heavily on the doctrine of qualified immunity. Despite the disappointing loss, the Water Protector Legal Collective and Cooperating Attorneys on the legal team promised to keep fighting not just in this case, but generally, reaffirming the commitment to supporting the Earth and all those in the climate justice movement who work to defend and protect Her.
The appeal brief references over 1,700 pages of evidence refuting Morton County’s claims that law enforcement was under attack and had to inflict mass violence to avoid being overrun. North Dakota federal district court judge Daniel Traynor granted summary judgment, accepting law enforcement’s version of the facts wholesale, ignoring the wealth of evidence the water protectors presented disputing those facts, and misapplying well established Fourth Amendment law.
“The court usurped the role of the jury by deciding these disputes in law enforcement’s favor,” explained Rachel Lederman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The courts have steadily expanded the qualified immunity doctrine to make it difficult to hold police accountable for violence, and we knew we were facing this challenge in a state so influenced by the oil industry. But we simply could not let this decision stand allowing law enforcement to get away with horrific unjustified violence – and even using water cannons, unheard of in the U.S. in 50 years.”
“We are hopeful that raising these important issues to the 8th Circuit honors the heroic struggle by Water Protectors at Standing Rock and will result in the repudiation of law enforcement misconduct,” said Janine Hoft, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “Shooting impact munitions and blasts of freezing water into a crowd of protestors and persons of conscience causing them serious injuries violates fundamental constitutional and human rights.”
The Dundon legal team consists of WPLC Cooperating Attorneys Rachel Lederman, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard (Partnership for Civil Justice), Janine Hoft (People’s Law Office), Melinda Power (West Town Law Office), and Natali Segovia, WPLC Legal Director.
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