Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 5, 2022

North Dakota Supreme Court says Tiger Swan's Standing Rock documents are public records

Photo by Ryan Vizzions

North Dakota Supreme Court says Tiger Swan's Standing Rock documents are public records 

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

The North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that TigerSwan's documents from Standing Rock are public records. Confirming the ruling of the district court, the high court's ruling means that The Intercept and other news media will be able to obtain the documents.

The high court ruled that a state regulatory committee must comb through the 60,000 documents and remove those associated with trade secrets and litigation.

The lawsuit is a victory for free press. Already leaked documents reveal the names of many Water Protectors who were targeted by TigerSwan at Standing Rock. Those leaked documents also expose infiltrators in the camps who attempted to provoke crimes, as reported by The Intercept.

The current two-year lawsuit comes after the North Dakota regulatory board ruled TigerSwan operated in North Dakota without a license. TigerSwan then turned over the documents, and Energy Transfer sued to keep the documents secret. Energy Transfer, which employed TigerSwan at Standing Rock, is the owner of Dakota Access Pipeline.

TigerSwan's attorney said earlier that Energy Transfer hired TigerSwan, war mercenaries, to coordinate security at Standing Rock in 2016 -- 2017. Internal documents reveal that TigerSwan advised the interagency law enforcement agencies, which included sheriffs' deputies from numerous states, state and local police, and the National Guard.

In related lawsuits, Standing Rock Water Protectors have filed suit, alleging excessive force, after numerous Water Protectors sustained critical injuries from rubber bullets and other projectiles fired by law enforcement.

On Earth Day, Water Protectors appealed a class action civil rights lawsuit as a result of injuries from rubber bullets and other projectiles which they were shot with by law enforcement. 

InForum News Service reports today on the North Dakota Supreme Court decision which makes public TigerSwan spy documents.

"The more than 60,000 pages that make up the TigerSwan documents laid at the center of two parallel lawsuits in North Dakota, which were merged by a district court judge."

"In the first case, Energy Transfer aimed to recover the records from the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board by suing the state board and TigerSwan."

"In the second, First Look Institute, publisher of the nonprofit news outlet The Intercept, sued the board to access the records."

"A 2017 report by The Intercept accused the security firm of using military-style tactics against anti-pipeline protesters that included invasive surveillance and a counter-information campaign on social media. The news outlet has sought to access the documents surrendered to the private investigation board since 2020."

Calling it a victory for transparency and free press, Tim Purdon, a Bismarck attorney representing Intercept publisher First Look, called the Supreme Court ruling "a clear victory for citizens of North Dakota who value transparency in government and the importance of the free press."

The decision is "a big win" for open records in the state, said North Dakota Newspaper Association attorney Jack McDonald. The decision "makes it clear that you can’t pick and choose which records are going to be open and which are not," McDonald told InForum News Service.

Still, it is unclear when the TigerSwan documents will be released.

The Supreme Court also ruled in a separate but related lawsuit Thursday that the state private investigation board must comb through each document to make determinations on whether certain information could or should be exempt under state law. For example, the state must withhold documents containing proprietary trade secrets and may withhold documents prepared by an attorney in anticipation of litigation.

The North Dakota Supreme Court's unanimous 15-page decision was penned by Justice Lisa McEvers.

Read the full article at Jamestown Sun by InForum News Service reporters Jeremy Turley and Adam Willis:
Includes the full North Dakota Supreme Court ruling

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