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Protesters prompt Bismarck federal building, post office to shut down

BISMARCK — The federal building and nearby United States Post Office in Bismarck were shut down Tuesday, Jan. 4, after Dakota Access Pipeline protesters gathered to demonstrate against a grand jury considering charges.

A Dakota Access Pipeline protester was subpoenaed to testify at a federal grand jury about Sophia Wilansky, the woman who nearly lost her arm during a November protest, according to court documents. But the man is resisting the order to testify, saying his constitutional rights to protest would be endangered.

On Friday, Steve Martinez filed a motion in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota to quash the subpoena requiring him to answer questions before the grand jury today. A judge was expected to rule on the motion before his anticipated testimony at 1 p.m., his attorney Ralph Hurvitz said.

Hurvitz said the subpoena served on Martinez references Wilansky, whose arm was severely injured during a standoff between protesters and police during the night of Nov. 20-21 at Backwater Bridge. Wilansky father, Wayne Wilansky, has blamed the injury on an alleged concussion grenade thrown by police. Police have said they did not use concussion grenades and have suggested protesters were making homemade explosives that night.

"Martinez has been served with a subpoena to appear and testify before a grand jury in this district on Jan. 4, 2017," Hurvitz wrote in the motion. "The subpoena further directs him to bring with him information related to the injury of Sophia Wilansky on Nov. 21, 2016, including, but not limited to photos/SD cards, written statements, any other information in his possession."

Martinez is resisting the subpoena, on the grounds that it violates his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

In the motion, Hurvitz argues the summons restrains Martinez's freedom of association under the First Amendment, because he would be required to testify about his fellow political activists. It may also make others fear participating in the protest, because they might be required to testify about their associates.

"People who might otherwise be enthusiastic about working on causes like protesting environmentally risky projects or police brutality while maintaining a certain amount of anonymity may hesitate or disengage altogether if they believe that their associates are feeding information to the government," Hurvitz wrote. "They may also fear the daunting prospect of being served with subpoenas themselves."

Making a public statement outside the courthouse, Hernandez said he would refuse to cooperate with the government or testify before a grand jury in any way that would repress the protest movement.

"The loss of my own freedom is small price to pay," he said, if he were to be held in contempt of court for his refusal.

Angela Bibens, a lawyer with the Water Protector Legal Collective, said the motion was denied this morning during a closed hearing. The prosecution did withdraw a portion of its subpoena that would have required Martinez to hand over any physical evidence.

"They're trying to get one of us to speak against each other. That's not going to happen," said Vivian Billy, a protester from northern California.

About 40 Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and a handful of pro-law enforcement protesters demonstrated in front of the federal courthouse in Bismarck in sub-zero temperatures.

The building was shut down, including the post office.

The scope of the grand jury's inquiry and who else has been called is unknown. Proceedings of grand juries, often to file criminal charges against people, are secret.

A phone message and email to Chris Myers, U.S. attorney for the district of North Dakota, were not returned Wednesday morning.

A rally was planned for Martinez outside the federal courthouse in Bismarck.