Private security guards who deployed dogs on protesters at a North Dakota oil pipeline demonstration were not properly licensed and could face criminal charges, according to a local investigation.
The Native American-led protests of the Dakota access pipeline received national attention in September when officers allegedly pepper-sprayed activists while guard dogs attacked protesters in a confrontation that was caught on video by the news program Democracy Now!
On Wednesday, the Morton County sheriff’s office, which has been leading the police response to the demonstration and conducted mass arrests over the weekend, announced that it had investigated private guards working for the pipeline and determined that “dog handlers were not properly licensed to do security work in the state of North Dakota”.
The disclosure is significant at the continuing pipeline protest, where members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their supporters say law enforcement officers have become increasingly aggressive and militarized, using excessive force against peaceful, unarmed activists and targeting journalists for arrest.
Leota Eastman Iron Cloud, a Native American activist from South Dakota who has been at the protests for months, told the Guardian by phone on Wednesday that she was present when private guards brought dogs and mace and went after demonstrators on 3 September.
“We are here in prayer, and they came for war,” she said, explaining that she continued protesting even after she was hit with pepper spray. “I can’t believe that people out there can actually do this to other human beings.”