Munitions Being Detonated as Evidence in Pipeline Lawsuit

May 4, 2021

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Munitions were expected to be detonated Monday as attorneys attempt to gather evidence in a federal lawsuit by a Dakota Access pipeline protester who was injured in a skirmish with law enforcement officers during the height of demonstrations against the pipeline.

Sophia Wilansky claims police targeted her with a concussion grenade as law enforcement tried to prevent protesters from breaching a blocked highway bridge near their main encampment in November 2016 in south central North Dakota. Demonstrators were turned back by officers who used tear gas among other things.

Wilansky suffered a left arm injury in an explosion and had multiple surgeries to save her limb. Protesters said her injury was caused by a flash-bang device thrown by officers. Law enforcement maintains it was caused by a propane canister that protesters had rigged to explode.

Wilansky, who was 21 at the time, is suing Morton County and the officers who were at the scene.

Morton County has obtained up to five munitions that will be deployed in the presence of an expert. Wilansky’s attorneys sought “fully functional examples of every type of munition, armament, less-lethal weapon, and crowd-control device” that law enforcement agents carried or used during the Backwater Bridge confrontation, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

That encounter was part of the prolonged protest against the pipeline in 2016 and 2017, during which 750 people were arrested. Opponents fear an oil leak could pollute the Missouri River, but the developer, Energy Transfer, maintains the pipeline is safe.

Wilansky is seeking millions of dollars in damages in her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Bismarck in November 2018 alleging excessive force, assault, negligence, emotional distress and defamation. Federal Judge Daniel Traynor last October dismissed several claims including defamation but allowed numerous others to proceed.

The plaintiffs said criminal activity was to blame for Wilansky’s injury, and that officers did not violate her rights.

American Indian tribes led by the Standing Rock Sioux are still fighting in court to try to get the pipeline shut down four years after it became operational.

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