MANDAN, N.D. — A North Dakota judge on Wednesday limited the amount of information the governor's office can be asked to give attorneys for an American Indian activist accused of inciting a riot during protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Judge Lee Christofferson also said he plans to deny a defense motion to force prosecutors to obtain and turn over evidence from private security firms, after Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier testified that the two did not work together.
The decisions could deal a blow to the efforts of Chase Iron Eyes to prove what he believes was a conspiracy by law enforcement in concert with private security to portray pipeline opponents as terrorists and violate their civil rights. Iron Eyes hopes to show that civil disobedience was his only option to resist a pipeline's incursion on his ancestral lands and to prevent the conspiracy.
Iron Eyes is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, the tribe leading the legal fight against the $3.8 billion pipeline because it fears a leak would contaminate its water source. The pipeline has been moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois since last June.
Iron Eyes and 73 others were arrested Feb. 1, 2017, after erecting teepees on land in southern North Dakota that authorities said is owned by Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. Protesters said they were peacefully assembling on land they believe rightfully belongs to American Indians under old treaties. Iron Eyes could face five years in prison if convicted.
His attorneys subpoenaed Gov. Doug Burgum in March, making dozens of requests for information they hope might help his case. The attorney general's office objected on several grounds including the request being unreasonable.
Christofferson during a Wednesday hearing limited the request to information regarding former Gov. Jack Dalrymple's emergency declaration, his activation of the National Guard and his triggering of a law officer-sharing agreement with other states. He also said he won't allow Burgum to be called to testify without his permission.
The judge during the hearing criticized prosecutors for being slow to provide evidence requested by the defense as the two sides prepare for trial, and he set deadlines for some evidence to be turned over. However, he also called out defense attorneys, saying, "when you do a list, you seem to include everything but the Library of Congress."
The two-week trial for Iron Eyes had been scheduled for August, but Christofferson on Wednesday agreed to delay it. A hearing will now be held Aug. 23 on whether Iron Eyes can present a so-called "necessity defense" — that his actions were justified because they prevented a greater harm.