Sheriff Says Pipeline Employee Who Pointed Rifle at Protesters Was “Victim”

A man is released from custody “as he was using the weapon to protect himself.”

An ID card found in the truck of an armed Dakota Access employee who entered anti-pipeline protesters' camp last week. (His face has been obscured.)Wes Enzinna

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Yesterday, the sheriff’s department in Morton County, North Dakota, released an employee of the Dakota Access pipeline who was arrested last Thursday after entering the camp of activists protesting against the pipeline. Numerous witnesses recounted a car chase and tense standoff during which the man pointed an AR-15 rifle at protesters. “No charges will be filed against this man,” the sheriff’s department stated, “as he was using the weapon to protect himself.”

A statement from the sheriff’s department described the Dakota Access pipeline employee as “the victim in the case.” It said he was checking construction equipment near the site of protests and had “disguised himself so he would be able to gain access without being singled out as a construction worker.”

Last Friday, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier confirmed that the man had been armed but disputed the account of the protesters who had confronted him. Kirchmeier said the man “was more or less [acting] in self-defense.” No shots were fired during the standoff, Kirchmeier said, contradicting an earlier press release. This video of the incident shows the man pointing his rifle at protesters as they approach him.

A woman talks with the armed Dakota Access pipeline employee who entered the anti-pipeline protesters’ camp near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation last week. Ryan Vizziones

Inside the man’s truck, protesters found three documents identifying him as a security worker for Dakota Access, LLC, the company that is constructing the pipeline. Afterward, a flare was shot into the man’s truck, setting it on fire.

Donnell Hushka, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department, confirmed the man’s identity. His name has been published elsewhere but we have redacted his name here because he has not been charged with a crime.

On Monday, the Dakota Access pipeline employee posted an account of the incident on his Facebook page. He writes that he was disguised so he could investigate the vandalism of pipeline equipment. (Photos of the man show him wearing sunglasses and a red bandanna.) He recounts that he “drew out my rifle,” but only “after my vehicle was disabled and over 300 protesters were rapidly approaching my location, a few had knives and were dead set on using those knives.” He also claims a protester fired a flare at him.

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“I was in a situation in which myself and others were faced with the difficult decision to take another’s life or not,” he writes. “A decision in which most people are never faced with and I hope never will, a decision in which changes a person’s outlook on life forever.”

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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