Bismarck Tribune, “Local attorney accuses Morton County prosecutor of coercing guilty pleas” by CAROLINE GRUESKIN and BLAIR EMERSON
Excerpts from Article:
A local attorney has accused a Morton County prosecutor of using “financial warfare” to coerce guilty pleas out of protesters.
“Morton County is looking to ensure that folks are on notice that, in its county, the First Amendment will not be upheld, and that, if anyone does come to peacefully protest and the judges and juries uphold that right, there will still be punishments to be had,” Bismarck attorney Erica Shively wrote in a brief Thursday.
Shively was taking the unusual step of opposing Assistant Morton County State’s Attorney Brian Grosinger‘s motion to dismiss the case against her client, Mary Redway. She wanted to go to trial on Friday.
Grosinger did not respond to a phone and email request for comment on Thursday or Friday. In court documents, his reason for dismissing the case was “the concern the state cannot meet the elements of the offense charged.“
In response to similar allegations from another court case, he cited the 700-plus pending cases and said, “Not all information available during the trial preparation was available at the time of the charge. Due to this reality, the necessity of changing course arises.“
On Oct. 22, several people locked themselves to Dakota Access Pipeline equipment in Morton County. In solidarity, a group of more than 200 people marched towards the site across private property. Police allege the protesters ripped survey stakes from the ground and yelled at law enforcement when they were told to leave. A total of 126 protesters were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and engaging in a riot, when police surrounded the group.
Police have characterized the incident as a riot, but Redway said people thought of it more as a prayer walk or even a picnic, and some brought their dogs along. She said she did not see signs marking the land as private. “I would’ve seen them,” said the 64-year-old retired environmental planner. She said police used mace and batons, causing panic within the group.
She’s retired and has the resources to return to North Dakota, which she realizes many other activists do not.
Protesters convicted at trial:
Also on Thursday, Grosinger took two cases from Oct. 22 to trial — the first time he has proceeded to trial instead of dismissing from that date.
The six-person jury found Dakota Luke, 27, guilty of criminal trespass and engaging in a riot and co-defendant Emmalyne Garrett, 33, was just found guilty of criminal trespass. Jury members made up their minds in less than 20 minutes, according to Harris, who is Luke’s attorney.
Harris said the state argued that walking together in the group constituted participating in a riot. She tried to argue that the demonstration was not a riot, because there was not damage to property or people.
The officers testified the land was posted, according to Harris, who argued that testimony should have been left out, because there are no photos of postings.
They were both given one-year deferred sentences, fines and ordered to repay $300 for their appointed attorneys. Both are re-charged with three new misdemeanor crimes from the same date.
“As a criminal defense attorney, anytime I’ve had a guilty verdict with a jury, I’ve always felt confident that the jury made the right decision,” Harris said. “This is the only case that I’ve had where I felt the jury nullified and refused to apply the law.“
Mary Redway of Rhode Island, holds up the piece of paper police gave her when she was arrested. It lists her name, date of birth, offense and arresting officer:
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