By Archie Ingersoll
FARGO — A number of officials outside North Dakota are facing a growing chorus of criticism for sending law enforcement officers to help tamp down protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Eight states — South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Wyoming and Wisconsin — have deployed scores of officers to Morton County in response to North Dakota’s request for mutual aid under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a national system for sharing resources.
In many of those states, politicians and residents have questioned whether it’s appropriate to have their officers deal with the protesters opposed to routing the pipeline just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Tens of thousands of people have signed Change.org petitions calling on the governors of Nebraska, Wyoming, Indiana and Ohio to withdraw officers sent to North Dakota.
In Cincinnati, a majority of city council members sent a letter Tuesday to Ohio Gov. John Kasich asking him to bring 37 state troopers back from North Dakota to help fight Ohio’s opioid crisis and reduce traffic fatalities, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Ten deputies and three supervisors from the Dane County Sheriff’s Department in Madison, Wis., were sent to Morton County last month. But after a week, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney brought them home after talking with “a wide cross-section of the community who all share the opinion that our deputies should not be involved in this situation,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney, who’s held a command role in helping the Morton County sheriff, said he’s concerned some officials are “putting political ideology ahead of public safety.” The protests have drawn national headlines and widespread liberal support.
The mounting political pressure for some departments to avoid sending officers to Morton County has not led to a shortage, Laney said.
Morton County has received some support from the FBI but would like to see more federal assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Laney said.
“We’ve been abandoned. We’re on our own as local and state to solve this issue, and so we’re having to reach out to the states to help us,” he said.
Last week, hundreds of people protested in Minneapolis after they learned that Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek sent deputies to North Dakota. Several Democratic legislators met with Stanek, a Republican, on Monday.
“Reports as to the level of force utilized by law enforcement personnel at this protest are extremely troubling, and my colleagues and I have many questions about the Hennepin County sheriff’s involvement in this activity,” Rep. Karen Clark, D-Minneapolis, said.
Stanek said his department is not taking sides on the issue. “Our decision to help Morton County was operational, not political. We were there to assist maintaining public safety, preserving the peace and protecting the constitutional rights of all parties involved,” he said.
Hennepin County sent 29 personnel, Anoka County six and Washington County five. The officers’ mission began Oct. 23, and they returned to Minnesota on Monday. North Dakota is to cover the cost of sending them.
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said she opposed sending deputies to North Dakota. “I strongly support the rights of all people to peacefully protest,” she wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Dayton noted that all governors have signed the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, and said he had no issue with sending deputies, a move authorized by his state emergency manager.
“I commend them putting their lives and well-being on the line,” Dayton said of the officers. “It sounds like they conducted themselves very professionally.”
Protesters have camped for months near a site where plans call for the four-state, 1,172-mile pipeline to cross beneath the Missouri River. They fear the $3.8 billion pipeline could contaminate the tribe’s source of drinking water and that construction will destroy cultural artifacts.
Morton County spokeswoman Donnell Hushka said 1,245 outside personnel have assisted the county since Aug. 10. She said officers from 24 counties and 16 cities in North Dakota have helped out, including Cass County sheriff’s deputies and Fargo police officers.
A Change.org petitiion started Thursday by a Moorhead resident is asking Fargo to permanently withdraw the city’s officers from Morton County. As of Friday night, the petition had 147 signatures.
Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, who’s expressed support for the protesters, said that while he’s critical of how the governor’s office has handled the situation, he’s OK with the city sending its officers.
“I believe that it’s our duty to, when called upon, to help each other, especially in North Dakota,” he said.
Forum News Service reporter Don Davis contributed to this report.