By Michael Sainato
It’s been nearly a year since the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline shifted from the Standing Rock camps to court battles, but several water protectors are still facing criminal charges related to the protests. One of the most severe cases involve Red Fawn Fallis, a 37-year-old Oglala Sioux woman. In October 2016, Fallis was tackled by two sheriff deputies, when three gunshots allegedly went off while she was being handcuffed. Fallis was charged with Civil Disorder, Possession of a Firearm and Ammunition by a Convicted Felon, and Discharge of a Firearm in Relation to a Felony Crime of Violence.
On January 16, 2018, Fallis pleaded guilty in an agreement with prosecutors who said they would drop the Discharge of a Firearm charge, which carries a mandatory minimum of ten years to life in prison. Next week, the judge will decide whether to accept the agreement and issue a sentencing date, or deny it, in which case the trial would commence on all three original charges. If Fallis’ plea is accepted, she will be the first water protector convicted with a significant prison term.
Fallis’ case is emblematic of the extent the FBI and other police agencies coordinated with private security firm TigerSwan, that employed counter terrorism and military tactics to suppress the NoDAPL movement. The gun Fallis allegedly fired belonged to Heath Harmon, who the United States Prosecutors revealed to the defense, is an FBI informant who infiltrated the Standing Rock camp and wound up dating Fallis, while regularly providing the FBI with information. He was ordered to spy on specific people within the camps, but never uncovered any plans of violence, or evidence of weapons. Other FBI informants, who continue to remain anonymous, had also infiltrated the camps.
“Rulings against Red Fawn at every step of proceedings have left the defense with insufficient information about the paid FBI informant who became her boyfriend and who plans to testify against her at trial,” noted a Water Protector Legal Collective press release. “The government has refused to provide full disclosure of even potentially exculpatory surveillance and other records in the possession of TigerSwan and other private security firms who coordinated with law enforcement during the encampments at Standing Rock and had targeted Red Fawn as a leader.”
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled against delaying the trial to provide Fallis’ attorneys with more time to examine evidence that the federal government has gradually disclosed. The judge also ruled against the discussion of any treaties between the U.S. Government and Native American Tribes during the potential trial. Due to the lack of transparency and evidence provided to the defense pre-trial, Fallis has opted to plea for a substantially shorter sentence. Prosecutors have cited they will recommend a sentence of seven years, though the judge has the authority to issue a sentence as long as ten years on the remaining charges. Five other water protectors still face federal charges, and over 300 have state charges pending in court.