As Sophia Wilansky undergoes surgery to save her left arm after it was severely injured when law enforcement used multiple less-than-lethal weapons against the group, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is blaming the protesters themselves for the injuries.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier defended the use of water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and sting grenades against the crowd of nearly 400 Dakota Access Pipeline protesters who held a five-hour prayer vigil on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, alternately referring to the scene as a “riot” and the unarmed protesters “very aggressive.”
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Sophia Wilansky, 21, a young woman from New York who traveled to North Dakota in support of the protest against the construction of the pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asserts would put their only source of clean drinking water, Lake Oahe, in danger from leaking oil, was described by a friend to have been supplying drinking water to the protesters on the “front line” of Sunday’s protest when she received injuries to her left arm, exposing flesh and bone.
The protesters are alleging Wilansky’s injuries came as a result of a concussion grenade lobbed by law enforcement into the group of protesters; law enforcement denies the use of concussion grenades, saying instead it was something that the protesters own resisters attempted to use against law enforcement.
A dispatcher for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department who declined to give her name said only:
“Nothing that was used was strong enough to injure anyone significantly.”
Still, spraying water on demonstrators from what Kirchmeier equated to “fire hoses” in an ambient temperature of 28 degrees F or less, left many of the protesters experiencing hypothermia. Twenty-six people were removed from the scene by emergency personnel for treatment of lacerations, internal bleeding and eye injuries. Wilansky was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
In addition to the prayer vigil, other members of the protest group used a semi truck in attempts to remove an obstruction to access to and from the Sacred Stone camp on a bridge on Highway 1806. The obstruction, burned military vehicles chained to barriers since late October 2016, is seen as a safety factor by the protesters, hindering vehicles seeking to leave or enter the camp.
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