Judge dismisses lawsuit of injured Dakota Access pipeline protester

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge in North Dakota has dismissed the excessive-force lawsuit of a New York woman who was injured in an explosion during the protests of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

In orders on Wednesday and Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Traynor granted motions to dismiss the 2018 lawsuit by Sophia Wilansky, whose left forearm was injured in the blast from an “explosive munition” or a flashbang during a clash between protesters and law enforcement officers at a blocked highway bridge in November 2016. The lawsuit named Morton County, its sheriff and two officers.

The judge said Wilansky’s 2023 amended complaint “plainly shows the officers use of the munitions and grenades were set in place to disperse Wilansky from the area, not to stop her in her tracks. In addition, the Amended Complaint fails to allege the officers were attempting to arrest her under the circumstances. Such an omission is independently fatal.”

Thousands of people camped and demonstrated for months from 2016 to 2017 near the pipeline’s controversial Missouri River crossing upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The tribe has long opposed the pipeline for the potential risk of an oil spill contaminating its water supply. A court-ordered environmental review of the pipeline crossing is ongoing, with draft options of removing, abandoning or rerouting the crossing, increasing the line’s safety features, or no changes. A final decision is expected later this year.

Wilansky alleged the officers “attacked her with less-lethal and explosive munitions” and nearly severed her hand. She sought “millions of dollars” in damages.

An attorney for Wilansky replied to an email from The Associated Press but did not immediately comment. Wilansky’s father did not return a phone message. Attorneys for the defendants did not respond to a phone message. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier declined to comment, citing a possible appeal.

The judge also noted Wilansky’s “horrific injuries to her forearm” and her allegations that the officers laughed at her and congratulated one on his “marksmanship.”

“While the Court appreciates the need for officer safety, it can be easy to devalue the human life officers are sworn to protect — in this instance, the protestors. The allegation of laughing and congratulating, if true, is appalling,” Traynor wrote in a footnote.

Also on Wednesday, he dismissed a similar, related lawsuit Wilansky filed against officers last year.

Other similar lawsuits connected to the protests continue to play out in court.

Last month, Traynor dismissed a 2022 lawsuit filed by an Oregon photojournalist who alleged officers used excessive force and violated her constitutional rights while she covered a 2017 demonstration.

The pipeline has been transporting oil since 2017.

Related News

From Archive


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}