The story of Wyoming Highway Patrolmen dispatched to North Dakota to protect the Dakota Access Pipeline is as much about government secrecy as about the reason they went.
WHP officers were sent to help North Dakota squelch protests pursuant to an apparently top-secret interstate compact. It’s called the “Emergency Management Assistance Compact.” Asked to review the document, WHP officials refused my public records request. They claim it cannot be “recreated, duplicated, disseminated, or used without written permission, and it is protected by copyright laws.”
I also requested after-action reports to learn what services our patrolmen provided in North Dakota. The work of six officers during 16 days in October and November is documented in four heavily redacted pages.
Does it matter? On November 29, the Bismarck Tribune reported the National Lawyers Guild filed a federal court class action lawsuit against several law enforcement agencies alleging use of excessive force against Standing Rock protesters.
The public has a right to know whether their Patrolmen were involved in any manner in the abuses alleged to have been perpetrated on Native Americans and other protesters while they were on duty at Standing Rock.
An earlier October 27 High Country News op-ed made claims similar to those in the NLG lawsuit saying the pipeline “has been ‘protected’ by a multi-state police force acting as armed corporate security. They use military-grade anti-riot technology with drones and helicopters buzzing like mosquitos in the air. The police force has been supplemented by private security firms, “hired guns” with dogs attacking nonviolent Native Americans. Crop-dusters have sprayed Standing Rock encampments with pesticides. Police use rubber bullets and spray tear gas and Mace from large canisters. Most recently, water cannons caused hundreds of nonviolent protesters to seek medical attention for hypothermia.”
The writer added, “People are being arrested, processed, strip-searched, thrown into cells and dog kennels. Police block highways. Cars, trucks and buses bringing supplies are stopped, people detained, their possessions and goods confiscated.”
The October 27 Seattle Times reported, “Shots reportedly fired, 141 arrested at Dakota Access Pipeline protests.” Their report continued, “Hundreds of protesters have joined the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their effort to block construction of the pipeline they say threatens water supplies and sacred sites. About 200 law enforcement officers launched an operation midday Thursday to force out the protesters from land owned by the pipeline developer.”
Did Wyoming Highway Patrolmen participate in or witness of these alleged abuses? We may never know because of the unwillingness of WHP to fully respond to public records requests.
One example of incomplete responses received was a report from the same day described by High Country News and the Seattle Times. An unidentified WHP officer reported on events occurring on October 27 when he assisted North Dakota officers “with clearing the North Camp along Highway 1806.” He reports, “During the operation, logs, stick, bottles and other things were thrown at us. Some protesters were riding horses towards the line of officers. One rider was within 20 feet of the line. Officers ordered the rider not to get any closer to the line and to back up. The rider refused to listen and came closer. I observed an officer (words perhaps describing the officer’s behavior are redacted), the rider fell off the horse and was taken into custody by an arrest team.”
The records provided by WHP are too incomplete to determine whether Wyoming officers played any role in the day’s event.
Asked to justify the redactions, the WHP emailed me saying Wyoming’s statute “describes both the types of records that can be withheld and the general reasons for doing so. WHP determined that release of the information could jeopardize security interests, be used to facilitate the planning of terrorist attacks, and/or endanger the lives or physical safety of various individuals.”