Audio: Morton County Sheriff Defends Trespass Charges Against Journalist Covering Dakota Access Pipeline Protest


This screen shot from a Democracy NOW! video purports to show security dogs used Sept. 3, 2016, to drive back protestors who had overrun the Dakota Access Pipeline worksite north of Cannon Ball, N.D. Images Courtesy Democracy NOW!

The criminal charges against Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman for trespass during a Labor Day Weekend protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline has drawn criticism from many in the media who see it as an affront to the first amendment.

“It’s apparent that the protest was on private property, but it’s regrettable that authorities chose to charge a reporter who was just doing her job,” North Dakota Newspaper Association President Steve Andrist told the Bismarck Tribune.

“This is unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” Goodman herself said in a statement. “I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protesters.”

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”This whole thing is an on-going investigation. We are identifying people who are involved in that incident. She’s part of it,” he told me[/mks_pullquote]

I had Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier on my radio show today, and he defended the charges saying Goodman was being treated just like everyone else at the protest.

“This whole thing is an on-going investigation. We are identifying people who are involved in that incident. She’s part of it,” he told me. “Even if you are a reporter it doesn’t say that you can still trespass. If she had stayed back on the fence and not gone onto private property and trespassed it would be a different issue.”

Cody Hall, one of the protests organizers, is also facing charges for the same incident Goodman was involved in (which took place over the Labor Day weekend). I asked Kirchmeier if there are more charges forthcoming for people they’ve identified as trespassing on the various videos of the unlawful protest posted online.

“Yes there are,” he told me, adding that his department is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the matter.

I also asked Kirchmeier if they were looking into the other side of that incident. Namely, the security guards who caused a stir when they used guard dogs to try and hold the protesters off.

“Right now we’re following up on that part,” he said. “As I mentioned before it’s an on-going investigation. We’re making sure all the security guards there were properly licensed. I can’t get real in depth into that but it’s all on-going.”

I get charging Goodman for trespass. She clearly broke the law. Reporters don’t have some special dispensation to ignore trespass laws.

But Morton County should maybe pick their battles. Goodman describes herself as a journalist, though in truth she’s something of a propagandist at the protests not so much to cover them but to support and advance them. There’s nothing wrong with that – I certainly have a viewpoint on the pipeline as well – but giving her an opportunity to play the part of the martyr probably isn’t helpful to finding some peace amid all this turmoil.

The county maybe should have waited to announce Goodman’s charges until they were ready to announce charges against a larger group of the trespassers. Make it clear that she’s being treated the same as everyone else. Because as long as that’s true, there isn’t a problem here.

Here’s the full audio of the segment: