Politics played no role in the decision to send 40 county sheriff deputies from three metro counties to assist in maintaining public safety at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in North Dakota, the sheriffs of those counties said Tuesday.
For the first time since the deputies were deployed more than a week ago, the sheriffs from Hennepin, Anoka and Washington Counties — who sent deputies from their departments to the protest site on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation — publicly discussed the agreement approved by the state to allow the officers to assist in Morton County, N.D., and the controversy surrounding the decision. All the deputies returned home Sunday and Monday.
Thousands have gathered in recent months to oppose the oil pipeline’s potential negative effects on drinking water and sacred sites on the reservation. Demonstrations escalated last week when law enforcement evicted protesters from private property in the path of the pipeline.
The deputy deployment, which lasted one week, included protests at Minneapolis City Hall and questions from state lawmakers about the process that sent the deputies to what they described as a peaceful protest.
“Some said we should look at the political winds before deploying resources,” Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said Tuesday. “You can’t do that. We assist in keeping public safety and preserving the rights of protesters.”
Stanek said the Morton County N.D. sheriff’s department and its 22 deputies had been overwhelmed by the number of protesters that descended to the protest site and who violated a federal court order to leave the area.
The National Guard and state troopers from North and South Dakota had already been dispatched to the site before a state of emergency was declared Oct. 15. Hennepin County received two requests for assistance, which it denied because North Dakota authorities didn’t follow proper protocol of the national Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) for mutual aid, Stanek said.
On Oct. 20, Joe Kelly, Minnesota’s Director of Homeland Security Emergency Management, confirmed the state and the governor’s office received North Dakota’s request. Kelly approved the request for deputies and the terms of the reimbursement agreement.
“We respond when communities need us,” said Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart. “We are trying to do what’s right, but you know you sometimes will get second-guessed.”
Washington County Sheriff William Hutton and Jim Franklin, Executive Director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, reiterated that politics has no role in law enforcement. Hennepin County Commissioner Randy Johnson also supported the deployment of deputies.
Stanek said Lt. Governor Tina Smith’s comments against sending the deputies and her claim that the governor’s office wasn’t aware of the sheriff’s plan “went a little far.” He said he received several calls from Gov. Mark Dayton in which the governor said he didn’t know about the deployment and that somebody from his cabinet should have informed him about the signed agreement.
Deputies from the three counties made about a dozen of the 140 arrests of protesters, Stanek said. He and his staff have spent the past week educating legislators and Native American community leaders about the EMAC and the deputy’s role in North Dakota.
“We understand their concerns and we want to continue to build our relationships within the community,” he said.
Stuart talked about other times the EMAC has been enacted to send deputies outstate and bring resources into Minnesota. He cited the floods in the Red River Valley and Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Hurricane Katrina. In Minnesota, help came for the 35W bridge collapse and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. It will most likely be needed when the Super Bowl comes to Minneapolis in 2018, he said.
“We want to be good partners,” Stanek said. “We don’t want politics to play a role.”