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Dakota Access pipeline protests delay U.S. Marshals visit to Devils Lake jail

DEVILS LAKE, N.D.--A visit from the U.S. Marshals Service to determine if the agency will use a Devils Lake jail to house federal inmates has been stalled by Dakota Access Pipeline protests in south-central North Dakota, but the delay could be a ...

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Lake Region Law Enforcement Center

DEVILS LAKE, N.D.-A visit from the U.S. Marshals Service to determine if the agency will use a Devils Lake jail to house federal inmates has been stalled by Dakota Access Pipeline protests in south-central North Dakota, but the delay could be a blessing in disguise for the jail.

Representatives from the U.S. Marshals' North Dakota District were expected to travel in August to the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center in Devils Lake to review the facility, but protests north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation have kept the federal agency from visiting, LEC Director Rob Johnson said.

"We were expecting them for our yearly inspection and we didn't see them, so I reached out to them and said, 'We're ready for you to swing in anytime,'" he said. "They told me that they had all intentions on coming up here, and it was just because they didn't have the resources because they are sending so many resources toward the protests down south of Bismarck."

Tribal members and Dakota Access Pipeline opponents have traveled to Morton County to the site of construction for the $3.8 million pipeline that would cross the Missouri River. The pipeline would carry 450,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois.

Protesters estimated in the thousands have gathered at a camp near Cannon Ball, N.D., to voice their opposition for the pipeline, which has been delayed by the Obama administration until agencies can investigate its construction and address tribal concerns.

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The protests prompted North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple to declare a state of emergency, sending National Guard members to assist local law enforcement. Multiple protesters have been arrested and charged with various crimes, including trespassing and vandalism.

The protests also have spread to Mandan, N.D., and Bismarck, as well as other cities in the U.S.

Other jails that hold federal inmates have been inspected, said Dan Orr, chief deputy with the District of North Dakota. He said the protests are part of the reason the U.S. Marshals Service visit to the LEC has been delayed, but their resources are primarily focused on the courthouse.

Johnson said he understands the protests are a priority over the LEC visit, adding the delay allows jail staff more time to improve the jail's security.

The U.S. Marshals Service previously housed several federal inmates at the LEC until security and safety concerns arose after several attempted escapes from the facility. Kenneth Eagleman is serving jail time for using a steel grate to break a window at the jail in April, absconding from the LEC for a week before he was recaptured. Wesley E. Brown III also escaped the jail in March 2015 with the help of a correctional officer at the facility. He was recaptured in Oregon and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

The contract with the U.S. Marshals Service is still in place-the LEC receives $68 for each inmate it holds each day. At one point, the jail housed about nine federal inmates.

The April escape prompted the U.S. Marshals Service to stop using the contract and re-evaluate the LEC to determine what the facility could do to make improvements.

"We talked with the administrator, and they certainly understood with what was going on that was the way we had to proceed," Orr said.

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The LEC now holds federal inmates for short periods of times, usually when they are arrested on warrants and are awaiting transfer.

The jail is not a major facilitator for the U.S. agency, but the lack of federal inmates creates a significant loss of revenue, Johnson said. The average daily population for the jail has dropped in recent years, which can be attributed to several factors, including lighter jail sentences. The jail can hold 108 inmates, but the 2015 average population of 88 has dropped to 62 inmates in September.

The LEC has made physical improvements to the jail to prevent escapes, Johnson said. The jail also has made progress in other areas, he added.

"There were some things that just became lax that we have refocused on, and we've gotten back to the levels that are expected and even exceeded in a couple of other places," he said. "There are still other things that we realize we need to work on, and it's going to take time-we can't overwhelm our staff either-but we are definitely trending in the right direction, and if the U.S. Marshals came in, they would be very satisfied with what they saw."

The visit will be unannounced, Johnson said.

Orr said he expects the visit could come in the next month. He added he understands the LEC's financial situation and that it's important for the U.S. Marshals Service to visit the facility to see what changes have been made, but he has to be comfortable with security at the jail before federal inmates can be housed there.

"I do intend to get up there again at my earliest convenience to take a look and see what they have done and see how much more we can utilize the facility," he said.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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