DAPL protesters say police tactics are excessive, police say they are within the law

Published: Dec. 9, 2016 at 5:47 PM CST
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Tensions between law enforcement and protesters have lessened considerably since Sunday's announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement needed for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe.

But there's still disagreement over the tactics police have been using throughout the conflict. Protesters say the tactics that have been used are excessive, but police say they are within the law.

One of the things that's come to the forefront of the discussion is the use of water hoses by law enforcement in sub-freezing temperatures, but protesters have also complained about rubber bullets, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal munitions.

Law enforcement used water hoses to disperse a crowd in sub-freezing temperatures the night of November 20, after they had gathered on the Backwater Bridge. Those tactics have drawn criticism from around the country.

"They were met by brutal force with water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets and in an unbelievable amount. It was horrific, it was a horrific scene," says Thomas Joseph, protester.

Protesters say the use of water hoses put their lives in danger by creating hypothermic conditions. But officials say the tactic effectively kept the crowd at bay.

"It was effective, but I would offer that everybody that was on the bridge had the opportunity to leave before water was used," says North Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Michael Gerhart.

Amnesty International has observed the protest four separate times. They say the police are overstepping their bounds.

"Water hoses should not be used against people in freezing weather against crowds of people. That's an excessive and dangerous use of force by police," says Eric Ferrero, Amnesty International spokesperson.

The senior intelligence official during the 1992 Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles, retired General James "Spider" Marks, says hoses are an acceptable way to control crowds.

"Water hoses are used, I would say, frequently to disperse crowds. Clearly it's effective, and a decision has to be made whether it's going to be excessive based on weather conditions," says Marks.

Officials accuse the protesters of playing to the cameras.

Maybe they wanted that visual, I don't know what else. But what is true is that they were in that flow because they chose to stand there. Water was flowing because fires had been started, and if it helped dissipate a crowd that was throwing bottles and rocks and everything else at law enforcement, it seemed like getting wet was a small price to pay," says Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.

General Marks has been on the ground in North Dakota and evaluated law enforcement's effort.

"This is a real professional group of folks trying to do the right thing to ensure that they can again my emphasis on de-escalation of a very volatile situation," says Marks.

Amnesty International says police are escalating the situation.

"When you show up armed for battle and dressed for battle, you escalate the tension, and we've seen that happen time and time again in Standing Rock in a way that concerns us," says Ferraro.

Police have been in many tense situations throughout the months protests, and they say they aren't the only ones dressed for battle.

"You have members of your group wearing ballistics, they're wearing armor, why would they be doing that if you're peaceful?" says a law enforcement official.

Even with a brutal North Dakota winter bearing down, law enforcement says they're keeping the water hoses in their arsenal.

"Would you use it again in a similar situation in sub-freezing temperatures?" asked a reporter.

"If they started fires on the bridge, yes we would use it again," responded Gerhart.

"We can use whatever force necessary to maintain peace," says Ziegler.

Law enforcement and protest leaders were able to reach an agreement for both sides to pull back from the Backwater Bridge in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. Since that agreement, both sides have tried to hold up their end of the bargain.