A New York City woman who nearly lost her arm in an explosion while protesting construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline is not entitled to the early return of evidence taken by FBI agents still investigating the 2016 blast, a federal judge in Minneapolis ruled this week.
Sophia Wilansky’s injuries sustained at the Oceti Sakowin encampment in North Dakota required an emergency flight to Hennepin County Medical Center to save her arm. She has alleged that she was struck by a projectile fired by law enforcement. But, according to a declaration filed with the court earlier this year by an FBI agent, authorities are investigating whether Wilansky was hit by an explosion set off by protesters trying to dismantle a nearby police barricade.
Agents seized a small piece of shrapnel that surgeons removed from Wilansky’s arm and also retrieved a piece of clothing after her father, Wayne Wilansky, signed a written agreement to turn over her belongings to investigators.
Wilansky’s lawsuit for the return of her property did not argue that federal agents violated her Fourth Amendment rights by taking the clothing but rather by refusing to return it in a timely manner as she considers filing a separate lawsuit for financial compensation for her injuries that she said carries a two-year statute of limitations.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright dismissed Wilansky’s suit after finding that her father’s written agreement did not impose a time limit for the return of her clothing and that Wilansky neither specified the nature of her possible legal claims nor argued why she couldn’t file a lawsuit without first having access to the seized property.
North Dakota’s Morton County was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit because of its involvement in a class-action lawsuit filed by pipeline protesters seeking monetary damages for alleged excessive force by law enforcement policing the encampment.
Federal prosecutors in North Dakota have not charged anyone in connection with Wilansky’s injuries, but an FBI agent earlier this year described the probe as ongoing in a court filing in the case.