Aaron aka “Prolific The Rapper” made a name for himself following the release of a uniquely moving music video on Sep 21, 2016:
Earlier that month, on September 6, 2016, while flying a drone above Oceti Sakowin Camp, his camcorder-equipped drone used to “document from the skies” was taken by Morton County Sheriff’s Deputies. Footage by John Wathen:
5-25-2017: Motherboard, “Drone Journalist Faces 7 Years in Prison for Filming Dakota Pipeline Protests” by Jason Koebler – Aaron Turgeon was arrested by Morton County Police and was charged with a felony count of Reckless Endangerment, a misdemeanor count of Reckless Endangerment, and a misdemeanor count of Physical Obstruction of a Government Function
5-25-2017: Bismarck Tribune, “Drone and cell phone footage lead to acquittal in protest case” by CAROLINE GRUESKIN
5-26-2017: Water Protector Legal Collective, “Prolific the Rapper Found Not Guilty“ – Aaron Sean Turgeon, also known as ‘Prolific the Rapper,’ faced three charges today regarding piloting a drone at a NoDapl demonstration site. After 30 minutes of reviewing evidence Surrogate Judge Allan L. Schmalenberger, former ND Supreme Court Justice who was hired to oversee some of the water protector cases, returned to the bench to declare Turgeon innocent on all counts stating none of Turgeon’s conduct was reckless or violated the law.
Turgeon was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment for flying his drone over a crowd of 150 to 200 people. Law enforcement claimed Turgeon put them and the people at risk of injury or possible death by his actions. Turgeon was also charged with class c felony reckless endangerment by law enforcement for operating his drone over 400 feet and within proximity of a Highway Patrol aircraft. Another charge Turgeon faced was a misdemeanor physical obstruction of a government function charge after he did not allow law enforcement to seize his drone.
“Thank you to the water protectors that day who with their cameras formed a circle around me and kept Officer Shannon Hinkie from taking my drone. If it wasn’t for them doing that I wouldn’t have video evidence to prove that I was innocent,” said Turgeon in an online video he posted to Facebook. “I also I wanted to thank the judge because he was fair with my case and I want to encourage all of the other judges to start being fair because a lot of the time what you’re being shown by the police officers is not true and I knew it but it’s not about knowing it, it’s about proving it and we proved it today.”
Lead counsel and WPLC cooperating Criminal Defense Attorney Doug Parr from Oklahoma City exclaimed:
“Aside from the fact that we had a very thorough and fair judge in this case which made a huge difference, a lot of the basis for the success in the case today was the support of the water protectors and our client Sean’s video evidence that exposed the falsehoods in the state’s case. One of my concerns is that the charges in this case appear to have been fabricated to justify the no-fly zone that was imposed in late October of last year.”
That no-fly zone impeded independent media ability to document the conflict between water protectors and law enforcement during late October and early November.
“Needless to say, I am immensely proud of my client, Mr. Turgeon, who was willing to stand up and speak truth to power in this case. I’m so happy he and his family no longer have this hanging over their heads.”
In agreement with Parr, WPLC cooperating attorney Danny Sheehan said: “The police officers were clearly coached by the State’s Attorney to fabricate evidence contrary to the facts by falsifying affidavits on their reports in support of their preliminary hearings. In doing so, this forced water protectors to trial on clearly false charges regarding the flying of drones over demonstration areas and wanting drones to be grounded in support of a no-fly zone order granted by the FFA.”
If Turgeon was found guilty he was facing up to seven years in prison.
“…We need the other judges to be fair we need the records to open up for all of the water protector cases so that they can examine all available video,” said Turgeon.
With weekly last-minute trial cancellations that water protectors have encountered by the Morton County State’s Attorney Office, along with cases being dismissed and met with new charges unless a plea bargain is taken, the victory today is a refreshing turn of events for water protectors and their attorneys.