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Pipeline opponents ask to drop all charges against protesters

Approximately 55,000 signatures on a petition asking for Morton County States Attorney Allen Koppy to drop all charges on protesters facing legal prosecution was presented to officials in the county courthouse in Mandan, N.D., on Monday morning, Nov. 20, 2017. From left are LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, HolyElk Lafferty, Dan Nelson and Phyllis Young, who all spoke after submitting the petition. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune1 / 2
Brian Grosinger, assistant states attorney for Morton County, holds a copy of a letter that accompanied the petition presented to the office on Monday morning, Nov. 20, 2017. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune2 / 2

MANDAN, N.D. — Appearing solemn as they gathered Monday morning, Nov. 20, three women presented the Morton County State's Attorney's Office with a petition asking to drop all charges against defendants charged from the Dakota Access protests.

Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, HolyElk Lafferty and Phyllis Young spoke on behalf of the Lakota People's Law Project, whose petition they said was accompanied by more than 55,000 paper and online signatures to Morton County State's Attorney Allen Koppy.

Signatures came from all over the world were submitted on the anniversary of law enforcement's use of water to repel protesters during a demonstration in subfreezing temperatures, according to Young.

"The crimes and the acts of war that occurred a year ago today is why we're commemorating today and we're putting forth the petition for dismissal of the additional charges that people are facing in the court system," she said outside the Morton County Courthouse.

Morton County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Grosinger confirmed his receipt of the petition Monday morning, but declined additional comments.

He did say the list of signatures attached to the one-page petition letter "is quite thick," adding he hadn't had time to count signatures since its submission.

Grosinger did not immediately return two messages for questions regarding the validity of signatures from petitioners outside Morton County.

The Morton County State's Attorney's Office said Koppy was unavailable Monday.

Brave Bull Allard said the office had no comments when the women submitted the petition.

"All of the people who are suffering today with the memory of one year ago have a right to justice, and so we're here standing on justice and remembering," she said. "We will never forget and we are still standing."

Lafferty, who is charged with two misdemeanors related to protest activities, said the morning's meeting was "intense."

"To sit across the table from someone who holds so much power and the lives of our people, the freedom of our people in his hands, is an intense interaction," the Cheyenne River Sioux woman said.

Lafferty appeared in court Thursday to propose a discovery schedule related to her and Chase Iron Eyes' respective criminal cases. Both intend to argue for a necessity defense in spring, essentially saying they had no other recourse than to commit civil disobedience in response to the perceived threat of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Lafferty also said her preference is due process for her trial, set for late May.

Trial court administrator Donna Wunderlich, of South Central District Court, said 493 pipeline-related cases have closed, 237 are open, 98 are inactive and three are on appeal, as of Monday.

"The state of North Dakota has an opportunity today with this petition to change their direction in the way that they're standing against us, and that we can all work together towards a better future," Lafferty said.