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Police, like every government agency, are self-preservationists, and — in the interest of appearing vital to the public — tend to distort facts to justify ruthless and otherwise inexcusably violent misbehavior.

Put simply, police lie.

And if awards existed for such a thing, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department could earn a gold medal in hubristic mendaciousness for its astonishing pattern of ignoring the reality of its brutality against Standing Rock Sioux water protectors and their supporters.

Because raw evidence, unlike police, doesn’t lie — and plenty of that has proven the sheriff’s department isn’t fooling anyone possessing a lick of common sense.

On Sunday evening, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department led an army of police from multiple states in an unrelenting 10-hour assault on unarmed water protectors — injuring so many so horribly, one shocked first responder called it “a mass casualty event.”

This stultifyingly callous violence was both live-streamed and recorded by journalists and activists in and near the chaos — capturing for shameful posterity an unhinged law enforcement entity unleashing what must have been pent-up rage against people who only wish to protect the integrity of their water supply.

A small group of water protectors took it upon themselves to finally clear burned out military vehicles left by police as a roadblock that were obstructing the most direct route, Highway 1806, to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, encampments, and local residences — particularly as they presented an impediment to accessibility by emergency services.

But police, apparently determined to preserve the blockade since that highway also runs close to current construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, began firing rubber bullets at the water protectors. Alerted by the familiar sound of shots, additional people from nearby camps began gathering at the scene.

By nightfall, the situation quickly unraveled — thanks to hostile and aggressive police needlessly escalating everything.

Officers continually volleyed tear gas canisters into the crowd of around 400 gathered on Highway 1806’s Backwater Bridge — but police strategically aimed for the rear of the group, effectively trapping people between a wall of choking gas and a wall of violent cops. Rather than trampling one another to escape the toxic fumes, water protectors chose to ride out the assault, occasionally throwing back tear gas canisters at police.

At the same time police launched tear gas, officers began firing rubber bullets, bean bags, and other putatively less-than-lethal projectiles — aiming mostly at people’s heads and legs, according to medics and EMS crews at the scene.

Also, in what could only have been conceived in sardonic vengeance, the sheriff’s department chose to soak the water protectors in with icy water shot from the turret of a military vehicle — effectively a water cannon, considering its weaponization of water in temperatures dipping to the low 20s Fahrenheit. Water protectors set a few controlled fires to provide desperately needed heat and prevent impending hypothermia. Indeed, exploding canisters of tear gas and concussion grenades sparked multiple small brush fires, which the group quickly extinguished.

Officers additionally lobbed concussion grenades randomly into the crowd — one landed squarely on the arm of Sophia Wilansky as she delivered water to the others, exploding flesh and muscle, leaving her with bone exposed and in danger of an amputation.

Wayne Wilansky, her father, contends that the injury was caused by an exploding concussion grenade thrown by law enforcement, who also deployed teargas, rubber bullets and a water cannon on protesters during a tense standoff on a bridge Sunday night, according to the Guardian. 

He maintains that the police account was “completely fictitious” and “bogus nonsense,” according to the report in the Guardian.

Wayne Wilansky’s account was also backed up by multiple witnesses and medical examiners on site.

Some 300 people suffered injuries that night, a tribal elder went into cardiac arrest, twice, a young man vomited blood after a rubber bullet to the lower abdomen caused a suspected internal injury, one man had a grand mal seizure, a 13-year-old girl was shot in the head with a rubber bullet, dozens become hypothermic from being soaked with water in frigid condition, and at least 26 people had to be transported to the hospital.

When the rampage finally subsided, journalists and water protectors — predicting the coming lies from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department — wisely scoured the scene for evidence and found telling fragments of weapons police used indiscriminately against the crowd.

And lie, they did — so, to set the record straight about what actually happened, it’s necessary to examine details with evidence from that night.

Police claim water protectors acted as “criminal agitators,” and thus unrelenting force was needed to quash rebellion and prevent violence against officers. Apart from tear gas canisters hurled back at police and occasional tossed water bottles and a few small projectiles, witnesses — including journalists documenting events and medics caring for the wounded — assert all aggression was perpetrated by law enforcement, and unnecessarily so. Video footage backs this up.

Further, this claim can be put to rest for two reasons: First, if a few people were violent, police should have dealt with those individuals instead of collectively punishing a group of 400. Second, the assault lasted for nearly ten hours. If that isn’t a disproportionate response, it isn’t clear what would be.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department chose to use water as a weapon against water protectors. Period. But they’re trying to avoid the direct threat that act presented to human life — by quibbling over semantics.

Police claim they did not deploy a water cannon to the scene — but whether or not water sprayed from the turret of a military vehicle no police department in America should possess negates the fact water was used as a weapon.

Further, the sheriff’s department contends the water was used only to put out the multiple fires at the scene — but even the mainstream, corporate media didn’t buy that lie:

“Sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller told NBC News that no water cannon were deployed and that water was sprayed from a fire truck to control fires as they were being set by activists. However, video posted to Facebook by activists clearly showed authorities spray a continuous stream of water over demonstrators in areas where there were no fires.”

Activist Kevin Gilbertt, who livestreamed for hours from a hill near the bridge — the only point cell phone reception would allow it — noted the following day his video captures police began spraying the water protector first, when a fire burned right next to the vehicle with the hose.

Another point of serious contention concerns whether or not Morton County used concussion grenades — which is the most likely culprit for the traumatic maiming of Sophia Wilansky’s arm.

According to Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, an “explosion” was observed amongst the crowd on the bridge, but police had nothing to do with it.

“We don’t know where it came from, but it wasn’t law enforcement,” he contended, as reported the Washington Post.

“It wasn’t from our law enforcement, because we didn’t deploy anything that should have caused that type of damage to her arm,” Maxine Herr, a Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “We’re not sure how her injury was sustained.”

Interestingly, it took just a couple days for the department to craft a story about how Wilansky’s destroyed arm is actually all her fault — and the internet had a field day with the laughable theory. According to a post on the Morton County Sheriff’s Department official Facebook page,

“‘We are aware of the information about the woman on social media who has claimed she sustained injuries to her arm due to law enforcement tactics. The injuries sustained are inconsistent with any resources utilized by law enforcement and are not a direct result of any tools or weapons used by law enforcement.’ – Lt. Tom Iverson, ND Highway Patrol. Below is a picture of a propane tank found on the bridge following an explosion early Monday morning. Officers witnessed protesters rolling the cylinder on the bridge, saw the explosion and then witnessed protesters running on the bridge to carry a woman from the scene.”

Fortunately, thousands of people pounced on the nonexistent chance a charred and clearly intact propane tank somehow exploded and nearly took a woman’s arm off. Typical comments included: “That looks like a burned propane tank. If it exploded, wouldn’t it be in pieces? Police actually expect people to believe this?”

A far better explanation came from Unicorn Riot, whose journalists collected actual evidence from Backwater Bridge that police did, in fact, use concussion grenades that night — whether or not they ever admit as much.

Fragments evincing the make and manufacturer of these weapons, Stinger grenades from the Safariland Group, lead to a frightening truth — not only could such a grenade destroy a limb, it could easily take a life if one landed in the wrong place. According to the Safariland site, which was taken down by Anonymous for obvious reasons:

“The Stinger® OC Grenade is a maximum effect device that delivers four stimuli for psychological and physiological effects: rubber pellets, light, sound, and OC. The Stinger® Grenade is most widely used as a crowd management tool by Law Enforcement and Corrections. The Stinger® Grenade has an initial 1.5 second delay that initiates fuze assembly separation, followed by another .5 second delay before the blast which is sufficient to project the rubber balls and chemical agent in a 50 foot radius.”

Further still, Wilansky’s friend, who stood next to her when the device exploded, described in an interview exactly what he witnessed — including that police seemed to be targeting her:

***

There comes a point when believing what the authorities tell the public would mean ignoring reality — ignoring evidence, eyewitness accounts, video footage, and, most of all, common sense.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is lying — and, astonishingly, they appear to believe their own lies.

While controversy continues to surround opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, it’s far past time to set aside the blatant untruths spouted by law enforcement to justify inexcusable barbarism. These water protectors are unarmed. They have remained peaceful, if angry, as a whole. Water bottles tossed in outrage at police officers actively jeopardizing the lives of water protectors does not an excuse for a 10-hour assault make.

This disproportionate degree of violence is reprehensible — and lying to cover the shame of what’s being done is an embarrassment to the entire field of law enforcement.


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Claire Bernish began writing as an independent, investigative journalist in 2015, with works published and republished around the world. Not one to hold back, Claire’s particular areas of interest include U.S. foreign policy, analysis of international affairs, and everything pertaining to transparency and thwarting censorship. To keep up with the latest uncensored news, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @Subversive_Pen.