The Lee County Attorney's Office is dismissing most of the remaining charges against the people arrested last fall during the weeks-long protest against the Dakota Access Crude Oil Pipeline.
More than 50 people, ranging from their mid-teens to their late 70’s, were arrested on charges including trespassing, interference with official acts, and disorderly conduct.
Some pleaded guilty and agreed to pay fines and court costs, but the vast majority chose to plead not guilty and request a jury trial.
Aaron Murphy of Rutledge, MO sought a jury trial. He told Tri States Public Radio Wednesday morning that he was working as a journalist and was documenting the actions of several water protecters when he was arrested and charged with trespassing.
“The police stopped me and decided to arrest me despite a lack of warning,” said Murphy. “There were no posted signs so I was well within my constitutional rights, especially as a journalist, to document the actions of those protestors that day.”
The pre-trial conferences for each jury trial request were scheduled for Wednesday, March 1 at the south Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk.
Murphy was the first to stand before District Associate Judge Gary Noneman in the third-floor courtroom.
Before the proceeding began, Assistant Lee County Attorney Clinton Boddicker informed Murphy that the county was willing to drop the trespassing charge against him. All Murphy had to do was pay the associated court costs: $60.
Murphy agreed. He said after his appearance that he was pleased a plea deal had been offered by the county.
“It reflects, I think, justice for the people, in one small way, that are here taking incredible personal risk, taking a lot of their personal time, spending their own money to be here, and to see the court not criminalize that protection of the earth, the protection of local waterways is really important for a lot of people,” said Murphy.
Boddicker extended the same deal to ten other people who had just one pipeline-related charge against them. Nine joined Murphy in accepting the deal immediately while the court granted the tenth more time to consider the deal.
Seven people had already accepted the same deal by phone earlier in the week.
Boddicker said the idea to offer the deals followed discussions with former County Attorney Mike Short and current County Attorney Ross Braden.
“If they all ended up having a jury trial, I would probably have had a jury trial every week probably between now and October, and we still probably would not have reached all the cases,” said Boddicker.
The deal only applied to people with one charge. Jessica Garraway of Minneapolis, MN received a different deal. She was charged with trespassing and interference with official acts after halting construction at the pipeline site for several hours by locking herself to a truck.
Boddicker offered to drop the trespassing charge against Garraway if she paid the court costs and if she pleaded guilty to interference with official acts.
Garraway agreed, prompting Boddicker to seek the minimum fine for the guilty plea: $250 plus fees.
By the end of court Wednesday morning, 18 people had accepted the plea deal by phone or in person while one more was considering it.
Eight others, who hired the same attorney, had their pre-trial conferences continued until March 8 while two more will go before the judge March 29.
There were four people who did not show up for court:
- Jill Garcia – Dubuque, Iowa – 1 count trespassing
- Natalie Meyer – DeSoto, Missouri – 2 counts trespassing
- Kathy Carlson – Kalona, Iowa – 1 count trespassing
- Candice Krenning – St. Louis, Missouri – 1 count trespassing
Clinton Boddicker said by not appearing Wednesday morning, arrest warrants would be issued for the four.