MANDAN, N.D. – “Democracy Now!” reporter Amy Goodman won’t face a riot charge stemming from her coverage of a protest against construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota, with a judge saying Monday that there was no cause for it.
Judge John Grinsteiner refused to sign off on the misdemeanour riot charge, which prosecutor Ladd Erickson had pursued after dismissing a misdemeanour criminal trespass charge against the journalist on Friday. However, authorities would not rule out the possibility Goodman could face other charges.
Erickson has said Goodman was acting like a protester when she reported on a clash between protesters and pipeline security last month. Her defence attorney, Tom Dickson, maintains Goodman was doing her job.
The protests have drawn thousands of people to the area where Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is trying to wrap up construction on the $3.8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. Opponents of the pipeline worry about potential effects on drinking water on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and farther downstream, as well as destruction of cultural artifacts.
Goodman is one about 140 people who have been charged in recent weeks with interfering with the pipeline’s construction in North Dakota.
After the judge’s decision Monday, Erickson referred questions to Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey. Asked whether authorities would pursue other charges, Preskey said, “It’s all under review.” She would not elaborate.
Goodman told reporters outside the courthouse that Grinsteiner’s decision was a “vindication for all journalists and a vindication for everyone.”
Dickson said prosecutors are wrong to continue to pursue charges against Goodman.
“The first charge was frivolous and the second charge was even more frivolous,” Dickson said. “Enough is enough. They need to let it go.”
An arrest warrant was issued for Goodman after she reported on a clash on Sept. 3, when Standing Rock Sioux officials said crews bulldozed several sites of “significant cultural and historic value” on private land. Energy Transfer Partners denies those allegations.
Law enforcement officials said four security guards and two guard dogs received medical treatment. A tribal spokesman said six people were bitten by guard dogs and at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed.
Goodman, who is based in New York, said she “came to North Dakota to cover this epic struggle … what we found was horrifying.”
About 200 protesters gathered outside the county courthouse Monday as Goodman was set to appear for a hearing that never happened. Many held signs that included, “This is not a riot.” About 100 officers in riot gear were stationed outside the courthouse to monitor those protesters.
Morton County sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller confirmed one man was arrested on charges including disorderly conduct.
Authorities said pipeline protesters earlier Monday briefly blocked a Bismarck-Mandan bridge across the Missouri River. They dispersed when ordered by law officers.
Carlos Lauria, senior Americas co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said any charges against Goodman are an attempt to intimidate reporters from covering protests of “significant public interest.”
Goodman’s show airs daily on hundreds of radio and TV stations and over the internet.
It’s not the first time Goodman has had a brush with the law while covering events. She and two of her producers received $100,000 in a settlement over their arrests during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
St. Paul and Minneapolis agreed to pay a combined $90,000 while the federal government agreed to pay $10,000. The lawsuit named the federal government because a Secret Service agent confiscated the journalists’ press credentials.
Goodman said at the time the money would go “to support independent, unfettered” journalism about such events.