BISMARCK — A Navajo tribal member from Arizona who alleges North Dakota law enforcement officers seriously injured him during protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline has no basis for his claims of civil rights violations, defendants in a federal lawsuit argue.
Attorneys for the city of Bismarck, Morton County and individual local, county and state officers named in the lawsuit are asking U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland to dismiss the complaint filed by Marcus Mitchell, 24, who now lives in New Mexico.
“Plaintiff has not alleged a plausible claim of violation of his federal constitutional rights,” attorney Randall Bakke wrote in a late Friday, Oct. 4, filing.
Mitchell sued in July, alleging he was subjected to “excessive violence” by law officers who in January 2017 fired shotgun beanbag rounds at peaceful, unarmed protesters including himself. One round hit him in the left eye, resulting in long-term vision, hearing and smell problems along with chronic pain, he alleges.
His lawsuit seeking unspecified money damages is backed by the Chicago-based MacArthur Justice Center, which uses the courts to advocate for human rights and social justice.
Law enforcement has denied using excessive force against the thousands of pipeline opponents who camped near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016 and 2017 to protest construction of the $3.8 billion project built by Texas-based Energy Transfer to move North Dakota oil to Illinois. Authorities say some protesters used violent and illegal tactics and assaulted officers. The protests resulted in 761 arrests over a six-month span.
Mitchell was arrested and charged with criminal trespass and obstruction of a government function. The charges eventually were dismissed through a pretrial diversion agreement, the terms of which have not been publicly disclosed.
Lawsuit defendants maintain that officers did not discriminate against Mitchell because of his race or his beliefs, did not intend to injure him and were fulfilling their public duty in responding to a protest in an area near a highway bridge that was closed to the public.
“It was Plaintiff’s unlawful conduct of trespass and obstruction of a government function which motivated the use of force against him and his arrest,” Bakke wrote.
Hovland will rule later on the defendants' request to throw out the lawsuit.
There are two other protest-related excessive force lawsuits filed against North Dakota law enforcement ongoing in federal court. One was filed by a group of nine protesters and the other by a New York City woman who suffered a severe arm injury. Both seek monetary damages.