Trial likely will be delayed for an American Indian activist accused of inciting a riot during protests in North Dakota against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, as his attorneys gather more evidence to present a "necessity" defense.
Chase Iron Eyes is seeking a judge's permission to use the defense in which a suspect argues a crime was justified because it prevented a greater harm.
Pipeline protesters who have recently tried the necessity defense in other cases in North Dakota and other states have argued that the greater harm they're trying to prevent is climate change due to fossil fuels. Iron Eyes also has said he wants to "stop global climate chaos," but his necessity argument goes further.
Iron Eyes hopes to show that civil disobedience was his only option to resist a pipeline's incursion on his ancestral lands and prevent a threat to the tribe's water supply. He also wants to argue that he was trying to prevent a "civil rights conspiracy" to portray pipeline opponents as terrorists and result in them being treated as such.
Iron Eyes and 73 others were arrested on Feb. 1 after erecting teepees on land that authorities said is owned by pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. Protesters maintained they were peacefully assembling on land they believe rightfully belongs to American Indians under old treaties.
Iron Eyes hasn't disputed his involvement, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribal member has pleaded not guilty to felony inciting a riot and misdemeanor criminal trespassing. He could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the more serious charge.
Defense attorney Alexander Reichert during a Friday hearing received permission from Judge David Nelson to request more material from the prosecution, including video taken the day of Iron Eyes' arrest and documents that might give more insight into the efforts of law enforcement and pipeline private security.
"They labeled Chase as a terrorist and a jihadist," Reichert said. "Obviously, that came from somewhere."
Assistant Morton County State's Attorney Chase Lingle said he thought all available information had been given to the defense but that he would double-check.
Iron Eye's one-day trial scheduled for Feb. 8 is likely to be delayed until next summer and likely lengthened to several days. Nelson called Iron Eyes "one of the premier cases" of the 761 arrests made during six months of protests last year and earlier this year.
"I'm not going to try to rush this through," the judge said. "We want to make sure this gets done right."
Nelson eventually will decide whether Iron Eyes can use a necessity defense. In recent months, judges in Washington state and Minnesota have allowed climate change protesters to use a necessity defense at trial. But judges in recent pipeline protest trials in North Dakota, Montana and Washington have rejected the defense.
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