Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 5, 2022

Amicus Briefs Filed in Support of Standing Rock Water Protectors in Appeals Court

Law enforcement blasts Standing Rock Water Protectors with water cannons on Nov. 20, 2016

Amicus Briefs Filed in Support of Historic Dundon v. Kirchmeier 8th Circuit Appeal

By Water Protector Legal Collective
Contact: Rachel Lederman or Natali Segovia
May 4, 2022

Water Protectors are still seeking accountability from Morton County and law enforcement for mass human rights violations committed over five years ago at Standing Rock.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NPAP) filed amicus briefs in support of the 8th Circuit appeal in the Dundon v. Kirchmeier civil rights case, in which at least 200 Water Protectors were injured and dozens hospitalized by law enforcement violence on one night as they demonstrated at Standing Rock.

“It is only a matter of luck that no one was killed,” Rachel Lederman (WPLC Cooperating Attorney) said about the suit. “This outrageous lower court decision sanctioning mass maiming and indiscriminate brutality must be struck down.”

Dundon v. Kirchmeier is a federal civil rights class-action lawsuit in which six named plaintiffs are seeking redress on behalf of hundreds of #NoDAPL Water Protectors who were injured by law enforcement on the night of November 20, 2016. At the end of last year, the North Dakota District Court threw out the Water Protectors’ lawsuit, finding that law enforcement was justified in unleashing a ten-hour-long barrage of impact munitions, chemical weapons, explosive grenades, and freezing water on unarmed, nonviolent Water Protectors.

The court decision further harms Water Protectors by validating human rights violations committed against them by law enforcement, giving no room for reparation from this traumatic experience.

Despite the disappointing loss, the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) and Cooperating Attorneys: Rachel Lederman (WPLC board member), Mara Verheyden-Hilliard (Partnership for Civil Justice), Janine Hoft (People’s Law Office), Melinda Power (West Town Law Office), and Natali Segovia, WPLC Legal Director, promised to keep fighting. On April 22, WPLC and its cooperating attorneys kept that promise by filing an appeal brief in the Dundon v. Kirchmeier civil rights case.

The appeal brief references over 1,700 pages of evidence refuting Morton County’s claims that law enforcement was under attack and had to inflict mass violence to avoid being overrun.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest and largest national organization comprised of Tribal Nations. Its mission is to protect and preserve the treaty and sovereign rights of Tribal Nations and to promote a better understanding of Native peoples, their cultures, and ways of life.

The NCAI amicus brief filed in support of the Water Protector plaintiffs in the Dundon civil rights case also honors the “thousands of other Americans who stood in prayer and objected to the Army Corps’s complete abdication of its treaty and trust duties and responsibilities to protect and preserve the drinking water, sacred sites, and graves of Tribal Nations.”

They noted that “356 separate Tribal Nations sent their flags to fly at the site where the peaceful protestors camped, and nearly 300 Tribal Nations passed resolutions or wrote letters of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to protect [their] treaty rights,” recounting the overwhelming support the Native youth at Standing Rock who began the #NoDAPL Movement and the Movement itself received from Indian Country.

NCAI wrote that the District Court mischaracterized the #NoDAPL Movement at Standing Rock in order to justify the excessive force used by law enforcement against a Movement committed to nonviolence.

NCAI added that the plaintiffs suffered serious bodily harm and injury and that their “exercise of their First Amendment rights was…met with serious force, and in some cases, life-threatening force” urging the 8th Circuit Court to reverse the District Court’s ruling. For more information on NCAI’s support of Standing Rock please see their 2016 resolution, Support for the Standing Rock Sioux to Protect its Lands, Waters, and Sacred Places.

The National Police Accountability Project (NPAP) promotes the accountability of law enforcement officers and their employers for violations of the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and is composed of hundreds of lawyers around the country, including leading experts on constitutional and civil rights law.

NPAP filed an amicus brief explaining the grave error in the North Dakota district judge’s finding that shooting unarmed Water Protectors en masse with impact munitions, bombing them with flashbang explosives, and deluging them with water cannons did not violate the Fourth Amendment. NPAP’s Fourth Amendment experts joined WPLC in calling for the 8th Circuit to overturn the outrageous district court decision.

“NPAP lawyers across the country have seen a shockingly large number of cases where peaceful protestors have been injured by so-called "less lethal" munitions fired by police. It is essential that officers be held to constitutional standards under the Fourth Amendment in these incidents of excessive and unreasonable force.

NPAP filed an amicus brief in Dundon to clarify that the law clearly requires Fourth Amendment standards to be applied in these cases,” said Suffolk University Law School Professor Emeritus Michael Avery, past NPAP Board President.

For more information from WPLC visit:

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