Bismarck, ND – On Wednesday, March 3, Steve Martinez was arrested and imprisoned at the Burleigh County Detention Center after refusing to testify before a secret federal grand jury. Martinez was an eyewitness to a violent police attack on water protectors against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) on the Backwater Bridge near the Standing Rock reservation on November 20, 2016.
Martinez’s arrest by federal prosecutors trying to coerce him into testifying comes as he was due to be deposed in a civil lawsuit by the family of Sophia Wilansky, a protester who suffered severe injuries on Backwater Bridge that night. Wilansky lost partial use of her arm after witnesses say police threw an explosive grenade directly at her, shattering several bones.
Martinez was imprisoned since February 3, 2021, for refusing to testify to the same federal grand jury convened in North Dakota; however, he was temporarily released on February 22 after a district judge found that Martinez had been held in contempt by a lower-rank magistrate judge who did not have the authority to jail him.
Before he was released from jail on February 22, federal prosecutors served Martinez with yet another summons to appear before the same secret grand jury on March 3. When he once again refused to testify on March 3, District Judge Daniel Traynor ordered Martinez be again held in contempt. Judge Traynor also imposed new fines of $50/day against Martinez until he agrees to testify; Martinez says he still will not be testifying. He can now be imprisoned without charge and fined daily for up to 18 months, as long as the grand jury is convened.
In March 2017, an earlier summons served to Martinez for similar grand jury proceedings was withdrawn after Martinez announced he was willing to be imprisoned rather than cooperate.
Since November 20, 2016, North Dakota police and their federal allies have doubled down on the unproven claim that Sophia Wilansky was making homemade bombs using camping stove fuel canisters. Many have seen this claim as a bad faith attempt to blame Wilansky for her own injuries and help North Dakota police dodge legal liability.
According to the Water Protector Legal Collective, which is assisting with Martinez’s defense, “the subpoena was a hasty attempt by the Government to give the appearance of an ongoing criminal investigation, in order to justify their continued refusal to disclose the central evidence in the case against Morton County.”
(A key piece of evidence in Wilansky’s civil suit against the government—shrapnel removed from her arm which is believed to match crowd control chemical grenades thrown by police that night—was seized by the FBI from the hospital room and never returned.)
Steve Martinez is not charged with a crime, but is being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify to the secret grand jury. He was one of the few people who actually saw Wilansky’s injuries happen.
Martinez’s attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen said that grand juries are “ripe for abuse and have a history of being used for politically-targeted harassment.”
“This grand jury certainly appears to have been convened for the primary purpose of manufacturing an ‘ongoing criminal investigation’ such as would justify the Government’s refusal to hand over definitive evidence in a related civil proceeding,” said Ms. Meltzer-Cohen. “Mr. Martinez has no obligation to comply with a subpoena that was issued in other than good faith, and we will use every lawful means to demonstrate to the Court that, at the very least, the circumstances surrounding this grand jury deserve serious scrutiny.”
Grand juries are held in secret and controlled entirely by the prosecutor; those called to testify under threat of imprisonment have no right to have a lawyer present with them in the courtroom.
Who is convening the secret DAPL grand jury? The US Attorney’s Office for North Dakota – headed by Chris Myers, then Drew Wrigley, and now Nick Chase
The federal grand jury is taking place under the auspices of North Dakota’s Acting U.S. Attorney Nick Chase; Chase took over from Trump nominee Drew Wrigley who recently resigned on February 23 after President Biden took office.
Wrigley took over from former ND U.S. Attorney Chris Myers in 2019; Myers oversaw earlier iterations of the DAPL grand jury, including the earlier 2017 subpoena to Martinez.
While former Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley is no longer the U.S. Attorney in charge of the secret DAPL case, his involvement over the last two years shows how the legal powers brought to bear against water protectors are rooted in right-wing, pro-pipeline, and anti-Indigenous sentiment.
Wrigley was nominated to serve as North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney by former President Donald Trump in 2019 (he had previously held the same position from 2001 to 2009 after being nominated by President George W. Bush.) Wrigley is a longtime Republican who previously served as lieutenant governor from 2010 through the end of 2016 under former Governor Jack Dalrymple.
Wrigley once had ambitions to run for governor, but in 2015 announced he would not run after local media caught wind of his extramarital affair. Despite criticism over the affair from his colleagues in the North Dakota GOP, Wrigley once again ascended to his former role as the chief federal prosecutor in North Dakota after Trump nominated him to be U.S. Attorney in 2019.
Wrigley has an intimate history with the Dakota Access Pipeline. He worked hard on behalf of the pipeline company during the end of his term as North Dakota’s Lieutenant Governor in 2016. As lieutenant governor, Wrigley made many statements attacking opponents of the pipeline.
After the November 20, 2016, incident on Backwater Bridge, where police unleashed fire hoses on protesters and injured several people with heavy use of riot munitions, Wrigley repeated the false claim that water hoses turned on protesters and journalists the night of November 20 were not used for crowd control and were only deployed to put out fires.
In a November 21, 2016, right-wing talk radio interview, Wrigley also claimed that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was dishonest and merely “pretending to be interested” in the pipeline. In another media statement he sought to deny the agency of Indigenous people, claiming that “the Native Americans are being used, absolutely being used, by these outside agitators.”
Most relevant to the case for which his office is subpoenaing Steve Martinez, in a November 30, 2016, interview with Valley News Now, then-Lieutenant Governor Wrigley claimed that Wilansky’s injuries were “inflicted by herself.”
“The secrecy of federal grand jury proceedings and the unfettered power and discretion that federal prosecutors have in the proceedings makes federal grand juries ripe for abuse against dissident political activists and their movements,” said James Clark, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild. “Mr. Martinez’s saga with federal grand juries seems to have already been characterized by a number of procedural abuses and irregularities, such as his incarceration last month by a magistrate judge who lacked legal authority to order it,” Clark continued.
Chava Shapiro, a legal worker and supporter of Martinez since 2016, said “we are all standing in solidarity with [Martinez’s] choice to invoke his constitutionally protected right to silence to the Grand Jury. Political activists know that Grand Juries have historically been used as a tool of political repression against Indigenous people in their efforts to maintain sovereignty, push the United States government to honor treaties, and achieve self-determination for their relatives and nations. The best and safest choice for Steve and for all those who protect the water is to maintain silence in the face of this Grand Jury.”
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March – May 2016
- After covering the camp in the spring of 2016, Unicorn Riot returned to Standing Rock Reservation on Wednesday, August 10th, when Standing Rock tribal members and allies blocked the entrance to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site.
- On Thursday, August 11th, a dozen or so people were arrested blocking the construction site entrances.
- Day 3, Friday, the fight to protect land & water intensified around the construction sites of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- On the 4th day, the pipeline resistance encampment swelled and prepared for more action.
- Monday, August 15th, land defenders stormed the construction site halting construction, and the next day construction was halted as well.
- August 17th saw State Police begin checkpoints, roadblocks, and psyops as protesters united to defend water.
- August 24th, camps prepared as Federal injunction hearing looms.
- Camps Organize to Stay as Injunction Postponed.
- On August 31st, Non-Violent Direct Action Stopped DAPL Construction for Over 6 Hours.
- September 6, indigenous water protectors swarmed Dakota Access Pipeline site, stopped work
- September 7, Uŋpa Nuŋpa was interviewed about ongoing #noDAPL actions
- North Dakota highway patrol refused to release email correspondence with Energy Transfer Partners
- September 8, ND National Guard took over Dakota Access Pipeline checkpoints
- Friday, September 9, US Govt. overruled federal judge and requested pipeline construction halted at Lake Oahe
- Meanwhile, cultural activities continued at #NoDAPL camps despite more arrests/warrants
- September 13, 20 were arrested during #NoDAPL lockdown, including 2 Unicorn Riot journalists
- September 14, direct actions continued against Dakota Access Pipeline while legal repression intensified
- On September 16 a federal judge dissolved the unconstitutional temporary restraining order Dakota Access, LLC had filed against Stranding Rock tribal members
- September 19, as solidarity protests spread nationwide, the federal appeals court ordered construction temporarily stop on Dakota Access segment as Solidarity Protests Spread Nationwide
- September 21, #NoDAPL noise demo demanded freedom for jailed water protector Olowan Martinez
- September 22, water protectors disrupted the annual meeting of the North Dakota Petroleum Council
- September 25, water protectors planted trees on DAPL construction site
- In Iowa on September 26, a non-violent direct action from the Mississippi Stand camp stopped DAPL construction for the day
- September 26, a caravan of water protectors stopped work at DAPL site
- September 27, militarized police arrested 23 water protectors in DAPL work stoppage
- September 29, a #NoDAPL solidarity action took place at MN Enbridge office
- October 3rd-4th saw the “Toxic Tour,” Governor debate disruption, and water protectors attend their court arraignment
- October 4, we learned North Dakota Governor Dalrymple’s email inbox was full of support for #NoDAPL
- October 5, Buffer Zone Holds as Caravans Continue to Disrupt DAPL – New Felony Charges
- October 7, 6 Arrested in Iowa #NoDAPL Action, Including Unicorn Riot Journalist
- October 8, Iowa Water Protectors Blockade DAPL Drill Site Twice in 24 Hours
- October 9, Federal Appeals Court Rules to Allow DAPL Construction
- October 10, 27 Arrests After Water Protectors Pray at DAPL Site on Indigenous People’s Day
- October 12, Lockdown Stops DAPL Construction in Iowa, 3 Arrested, Including Unicorn Riot Journalist
- October 14, Emails Show North Dakota Budget Bureaucracy Behind #NoDAPL Policing
- October 16, Direct Actions Continue to Stop DAPL Construction in Iowa and North Dakota
- October 17, Four Unicorn Riot Journalists Face Charges For Covering #NoDAPL
- October 17, Water Protectors Blockade Highway in Bismarck, Some Charges Dropped
- October 20, As DAPL Construction Advances, Water Protectors Continue Direct Action
- October 22, Water Protectors’ Prayer Walk Ends up with 127 Arrests, Including Unicorn Riot Journalist
- October 23, Law Enforcement Attack Private Drone as Water Protectors Erect Blockade & New Winter Camp
- October 24, Mississippi Stand Blockades Iowa DAPL Drill Waste Site, Drilling Stops
- October 25, Records Release: Morton County’s Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Assistance Agreement
- Hundreds Flood Minneapolis City Hall to Demand Local Sheriff Withdraw from North Dakota
- October 26, Tensions Rise as Pipeline Construction Nears #NoDAPL Blockade
- October 27, Police and Military Attack Oceti Sakowin Treaty Camp
- November 1, #NoDAPL Solidarity Rally & Sit-In in Minneapolis Prods Sheriff into Removing Deputies
- November 1, DAPL Resistance Continues Despite Advancing Construction
- November 2, Police Attack Water Protectors Defending Sacred Sites
- November 5, DAPL Construction Nears US Army Corps Land While Still Lacking Permits
- November 6, Water Protectors Attempt to Reclaim Sacred Burial Site, Demonstrate in Cemetery
- November 8, Dakota Access Announces Plan to Drill Under Missouri River Within Weeks
- November 11, Dakota Access Pipeline Work Stopped As Water Protectors Storm Site; 30+ Arrested
- November 14, #NoDAPL Water Protectors March on ND State Capitol after Caravan Disrupts Construction
- November 14, Mississippi Stand Goes Inside Pipeline and Shuts Down DAPL Construction
- November 14, Army Corps Delays DAPL Easement
- November 15, “No More Stolen Sisters” Demonstration Blockades DAPL Man Camp; 25+ Arrests
- November 16, Despite Army Corps Statement, DAPL Moves Horizontal Drill to Missouri River Crossing
- November 17, Demonstration in Bismarck-Mandan, Cass County Deputies Beat Man Bloody
- November 20, Police Attack Unarmed Water Protectors w/ Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas, and Water Cannons; 300+ injured
- November 21, Land Defense & Water Protection Actions Ripple Across Turtle Island
- November 22, Hundreds Target U.S. Army Corps Building in St. Paul w #NoDAPL Message
- November 22, Anonymous DDOS Munitions Vendor After Sheriffs Attack #NoDAPL
- November 22, #NoDAPL Water Protector Faces Possible Loss Of Her Arm After Police Attack
- November 24, Water Protectors Bridge onto Turtle Island; Mandan Thanksgiving Street Feast
- November 25, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Announces Intent to Close Oceti Sakowin #NoDAPL Camp
- November 29, Excessive Force Lawsuit Filed Against Morton County Sheriff for November 20 Bridge Assault
- December 1, Direct Action Continues To Disrupt Dakota Access Pipeline Construction in Iowa
- December 3, Divest from DAPL; Three Wells Fargo Locations Targeted in Minneapolis, Eight People Locked Down and Two Arrested
- December 4, Army Corps Denies Dakota Access Pipeline Easement
- December 8, Veterans Apologize for Genocide & March to Backwater Bridge in Blizzard
- December 8, Nebraska Supplied State Troopers, Surveillance Aircraft to North Dakota Under EMAC
- December 12, #DivestFromDAPL Action Disrupts Wells Fargo Branch Grand Opening, Doors Secured with Bike Locks
- December 19, First Water Protector Trials Set for January as Another ND Pipeline Leaks