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DNA from cigarette leads to Dakota Access arrest warrant 3 years later (kfgo.com)
112 points by anigbrowl 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments

This whole protest always seemed pretty dystopian to me. The fact that the government of North Dakota is still combing the scene for DNA leads to prosecute additional protestors 3 years later after having acquitted or probated nearly 400 of them seems to imply this is quite a witch hunt.


> In September 2016, construction workers bulldozed a section of land the tribe had identified as sacred ground and when protesters entered the area security workers used attack dogs which bit at least six of the protesters and one horse.

>At least six protesters were treated for dog bites, and an estimated 30 were pepper-sprayed before the guards and their dogs left the scene in trucks.

>In May 2017, internal TigerSwan documents leaked to The Intercept and other documents obtained through public records requests revealed a close collaboration between the pipeline company and local, state, and federal law enforcement as they carried out "military-style counterterrorism measures" to suppress the protesters.

>> The fact that the government of North Dakota is still combing the scene for DNA leads to prosecute additional protestors 3 years later

I doubt this DNA was combed from the scene three years later. This was a cigarette that was taken three years ago and has been in an evidence locker for years. Finally, today, an arrest is being made. We don't know whether it took three years to do the testing or whether they knew of the match years ago and only now decided to arrest. Three years is a common statute of limitations limit. They could have been working on this from day one and now, with a SOL looming, they have decided to move forwards.

Or maybe the DNA is the announced link and they had an identification by other means. Maybe by relying upon the cigarette they aren't announcing that they have been talking to witnesses/informers. The cigarette is enough to get the warrant, without the need to divulge the existence of informers just yet.

But why bother with a DNA test for vandalism and protesting?

Especially if you haven't mandated DNA tests for Rape Kits and still have a backlog:

Rape, Murder, and Battery are one thing. Protesting and vandalism are quite another.


like something straight out of The East


Oh man. It WAS wild.

I was in Joels hotel room the night Trump got elected. I guess I was just an easy target. I was loud mouthed and easily singled out. All I can remember was being a little tipsy and ranting about how I hated the news, the presidents, etc...Months later I find out he was an infiltrator. All I could think was "oh crap I hope I didn't threaten the president or anything under the influence". I thought it was hilarious actually because Joel couldn't ever get any good information from anybody. We all knew the drill. What was our secret? To keep no secrets. Everything was planned out in the open and everyone involved in anything knew they would be going to jail.

So I'm not really sure how he became known as an infiltrator because he never infiltrated anything. After thinking about things a while, I think he, deep down, understood how silly his job was at the time...."infiltrating" a bunch of peaceful protestors. I'm talking grandpas, grandmas (and damn brave ones let me tell you), college students, etc...The people they wanted to "infiltrate", to this day, cook meals EVERY DAY for homeless and poor people in our community.

> security workers used attack dogs which bit at least six of the protesters and one horse.

How many years did the security workers get in jail? In my country that would be quite a few for "intent to cause grievous bodily harm"

I can't remember wasn't this the same protest that after they left they left the entire place full of garbage?

It's very difficult to clean up after yourselves when you are forcibly evacuated.

"we only collect DNA for violent crimes" right!

we need to remember this as they push for facial recognition, gait recognition, voice recognition, etc.

They left quite a trash pile when they left at the expense of to the Dakota taxpayers

It was mentioned elsewhere, but it is hard to pack up when you are fleeing attack dogs, carried off in cuffs, or being pepper sprayed.

Besides the fact that that isn’t one of the charges filed here, and the cost of cleaning up litter can’t possible compare to the amount of police work spent to hunt down this person.

Do you really believe that any police officer anywhere in the US actually cares enough about littering to do a full-on forensic investigation?

I wonder if there will ever be enough of a political pushback on this stuff to change anything? I feel like people that care about privacy and not having a dystopian government are always going to be the minority. What needs to happen for normal people to start to care?

It will have to occur to someone they care about or themselves. By then it will be too late.

But that will only change the mindset of the person it directly affects, and only maybe. Somehow, it needs to become part of the system, by default, whether most people care about it or not. Once it's in place, any stray from that default needs to be met with instant backlash from within the system itself to keep it in position. It's a never ending fight.

You could argue that the 'Green New Deal' touted by left-leaning members of Congress and some Presidential candidates is an (indirect) policy response vs the right's preferred approach of building more fossil fuel infrastructure.

Seems to be missing an explanation on how they managed to figure out whoever smoked that cigarette was involved in the riot. Is there videos of that specific cigarette being thrown on the ground or something like that?

Reaching that conclusion is pretty simple. At least simple and straight forward enough to charge someone. Probably not as simple to get an actual conviction.

I think this is what happened. They probably found several cigarette butts inside the perimeter of the vandalized private property, they ran DNA tests for all of them and one matched this guy's DNA. There are only a few possible reasons for his DNA to be inside that perimeter:

1) He was a contractor doing work for the Dakota Access Pipeline operator (probably already ruled out, otherwise he wouldn't have been charged).

2) Somebody took his butt from outside and put it inside the perimeter (very unlikely).

3) He actually smoked that cigarette and dropped the butt in that location while he was vandalizing it (most likely scenario from the prosecution point of view).

4) He trespassed the property at a different time and smoked and dropped the cigarette butt at that time. This is still an unlawful behavior but is probably better than all the other charges. (This is a possible scenario but it would be pretty hard for his defense to demonstrate this is what actually happened).

Again. This is enough for prosecutors to charge this guy but it doesn't mean at all that this is good evidence to get a conviction. In my humble opinion, a cigarette butt with your DNA is pretty weak evidence in this particular case.

So you’re saying, no problem, all he needs to do is prove his innocence?

This specific incident a bunch of people were around the equipment. Presidential Candidate Jill Stein was there and took a can of spray paint and painted the scoop of one of the bulldozers with an activist slogan. The incident is on film and was widely covered by the media. That was the vandalism. These bulldozer scoops have a rough life and any graffiti on them wears off within hours of their next use so the assertion that this was legitimate damage is questionable. It's known and documented on film exactly what happened there on that day. It's also known that only a tiny number of people engaged in bulldozer graffiti, the particular people who did were filmed, and their identities are known. The person named in the affidavit was not among any of the people who were seen painting the bulldozer scoop. Furthermore nothing observed there would be reasonably described by any rational person as "rioting", which is the charge being levied with this butt being the only evidence presented.

If he had an alibi for (3), then (4) would be plausible to show.

Yes, that's true. 4 is not that unlikely actually. He could have trespassed with no intention of doing harm. We don't know how the location looks like, but it's possible that it was just an open construction job site, so trespassing would have been as simple as just walking in.

That's why I posted it - using DNA to prove trespass seems wildly disproportional to the gravity of the offense, while being insufficient to prove participation in any more serious crime.

>2) Somebody took his butt from outside and put it inside the perimeter (very unlikely).

Only if you discount squirrels.

I went to North Dakota when the camp was at its height. It was incredibly beautiful and inspiring.

I lived in North Dakota during it's height and 30 years prior. It was a ridiculous protest driven by emotional overreaction to a normal construction proceeding (the Missouri had already been crossed near Williston by the same pipeline).

It had a disruptive negative impact on many of the surrounding communities. And the state was left with a huge mess to clean up after all the protestors left.

It's hard to believe that those pushing people off the land for trespass in forcible fashion would have decided to delay a day if they had pointed out the they needed time to clean up their campsite. Did you really think that argument through, or was it just a convenient way to express a negative opinion?

>It had a disruptive negative impact on many of the surrounding communities

Given that it also nearly doubled the size of the county, it probably kept those dying towns afloat.

>And the state was left with a huge mess to clean up after all the protestors left.

The state is also still spending tax money doing DNA tests to find a nonviolent protestor, not to mention the police bill rung up forcing all those protesters to leave.

Brother, I was there with you as well. I saw no criminal activity by protestors (protectors). Everything was legal. No doubt there were some crimes here and there but certainly not rioting, terrorism, etc.

Those claiming now that everyone there committed federal crimes, I am here. Come arrest me. File your charges. I will ensure you are countersued for libel and false arrest. I will take you all down and as a lifelong successful engineer and entrepreneur I have the financial resources and legal advisors to ensure my rights. I committed no crime whatsoever. Bring it on, everyone making these claims. Bring it. I am here, waiting for all the internet basement accusers to make this real. Come now, let us grapple and let the courts determine the truth.

I think I had a cigarette butt or two in North Dakota at the time, too. Looks like they need to come get me as well. I'm still in good ole Des Moines, Iowa. :)

There was no illegal activity going on. Everyone told everyone else how sensitive things were. We were all on our toes. The true crimes were committed by the paid oil protectors, the cops, the companies making this project happen and the government.

They took a LOT of land from a lot of people, simply trying to get by. Even if you opposed it and refused any sort of financial compensation (which in fact several people tried to do) then the land was taken anyways.

My family has a cattle ranch near the protest site. What I saw was that the some of the protesters didn't really know the difference between a rancher's tractor, and pipeline equipment. Now... there is some overlap there with dump trucks, but there's no way a combine can build a pipeline (edit, a combine is a machine used for separating grain from the stalks). A number of ranchers had their equipment vandalized just for having a field near the protests (5-10 mile range). Incidents of people misbehaving were pretty well documented, and worse... these ranchers didn't often have vandalism insurance to make them whole again. I don't think it was quite all "Kumbaya" is all I'm getting at here. So while I was against the pipeline, I was more against people fucking up rancher's property. These guys have a hard enough life without some punk indiscriminately trying to pour sugar in the gas tank of everything they could find bigger than a riding lawnmower.

Anyway one of these has a clip of some of the protesters blocking access to a certain area. First hand, that was my experience trying to drive a pickup truck through one of the areas. These guys blocked the roads, came up to the truck, were incredibly aggressive... swearing and posturing right off the bat. My dad, who's an enrolled member of the tribe, tried to tell them he was just getting through... he's in his 70s, and these guys mistook him for a pipeline worker. Yeah... I mean, it was just surreal having someone who clearly didn't sound like they were from North Dakota yelling at my Dad, who has lived there his entire life, about how we were violating and trespassing on sacred lands and they had the right to stop us from using the road.

* Ranchers Impacted by the DAPL Protests Voice Their Concerns | The Mighty 790 KFGO || https://kfgo.com/podcasts/ag-news-leader/1694/ranchers-impac...

* N.D. Pipeline Protests Have Agitated Area Farmers - AgWeb || https://www.agweb.com/article/nd-pipeline-protests-have-agit...

* My old comments on HN on this subject || https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...

Surprise! Large groups of people have bad apples!

So it wasn't just a few bad apples. My perspective. The group on the road was the face of the protest to anyone driving through. Right? And these guys weren't locals, they couldn't tell the difference between ranchers and pipeline workers, and generally didn't care who their actions impacted. They were thugs, people who wanted to get into a fight. That's who gravitates to a spot like that.

What would have helped? Put some of the local protesters on the road, people who didn't come off as quite so aggressive, to be the face of this thing. Who could have educated people on the issue. Instead, you get some guy in a bandanna, with a baseball bat, walking up to your truck, "Get the fuck off out of here!" Again, the absurdity of some non-native non-local telling a life-long resident native rancher, "I'm protecting my sacred lands..."

And if you ask the locals, there's no love for the protesters. People remember how you make them feel, right? It's impossible to defend the actions of a group of people who caused so much destruction and were such assholes to deal wtih. Any reason they couldn't tell the difference between pipeline workers and ranchers and just the the ranchers through? Ranchers are all older, I think the average age of ranchers in North Dakota is now over 50, and typically drive pretty beat up trucks (average income is $40k).

If you want to fight the 1%, you don't do it by trashing on some guy who's just out there doing an honest day's work. These are family men just trying to make ends meet. These families that lost equipment... they're still down 3 years later. Anyway that was my experience with this. I hate the militarization of police, and most police in general, but it's really hard for me to feel pity for anything that happened to the protesters after the way I saw them treat local ranchers. Just no excuse for a lot of that shitty behavior.

How do you prove the evidence wasn’t tampered with in the intervening years? Are we to trust the police evidence gathering and storage techniques for that long?

First it's these protesters in the US, next this will be used against Hong Kong protestors

We don't live in a surveillance state! We have all these rights and everything to prove it!

blt 36 days ago [flagged]

Daily reminder that police exist to protect the "property" of the ruling class.

Maybe so, but please don't post unsubstantive comments to HN. Especially not ideological flamebait slogans.


That seems rather biased, Dan. While the 'daily reminder' bit is snarky dismissing it as mere flamebait or soganeering is unjustified and veers into trying to control the discussion. It's quite relevant considering the context.

It simply repeats a slogan that's favored by one side of the ideological abyss and rejected by the other. Therefore there's only a single bit of information in it, the bit that signals which side the comment is on. An HN comment needs more than one bit of information to count as substantive.

The police is there to protect the law and order, and the ruling class don't want the current order (them on top) to change.


Please don't take HN threads further into ideological flamewar. It's not what this site is for.


So people want DRM in their printer cartridges? They want to pay for patent-encumbered filesystems instead of free ones? They want ads that spy on which websites they visit? They want to be lied to about the harms of sugary foods [1]? About the harms of smoking? They want the dangers of climate change concealed from them, so that they cannot act in time and develop alternative sources of energy [2]? They want to be lied to about the dangers of lead in gasoline?

Companies make money in all sorts of ways, and producing what people want is just one of them. To pretend otherwise is willful ignorance.

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/13/493739074...

[2] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-...

People accept those things as trade offs for things they want, yes. Free markets don’t give people what they want. They give people the trade offs they most highly value. They may not want DRM in printer cartridges, but they make the conscious decision to buy $100 printers with expensive DRM cartridges instead of $500 printers with cheap cartridges. They may not want less leg room on flights, but they make the conscious decision to click on a fare $3 lower in Orbitz. They may not want ads to spy on them, but they don’t want to pay for content. They want sugary foods, which are delicious. They want gas guzzling SUVs, and continue to buy them in large numbers even now that the “truth” about climate change is supposedly out.

Economies are about trade offs. The central thing marxists do not understand is that you cannot alter the nature of the trade offs through government. All you can do is move the equilibrium to a different place (at the cost of a deadweight loss).

You're applying the logic of perfect competition(which presupposes total market knowledge) to real-world consumer decisions, which are subject to multiple complicating factors from the paradox of choice to well-documented behavioral quirks.

You're smarter than this.

All the industries I’m talking about are highly competitive.

In order to function well, markets have to be correctly regulated. In particular, externalities must be accounted for. Energy markets fail to do that (CO2 emissions is a large externality) and are broken - I wager we wouldn't depend on fossil fuels for much longer if it weren't the case.


Police are there to protect the political ruling class and their power structure. Same with the military. This is why I am confused when people are "proud" to serve in the military. That's like being a slave used to build a railroad, which you will never use or benefit from.

I’m sure our intrepid freedom of speech crusaders will be along to decry this any moment now!

I'll decry it - for the growing surveillance state that shows how difficult it's getting to anonymously protest, for the corporate-skewed use of police resources (I'm sure more serious crimes went under-investigated while they were busy doing DNA analysis on every piece of trash from the protest), and for the chilling effect of prosecuting on the mere basis of presence at a protest. There's always a chance protests will get out of hand, and few people would attend if merely being there resulted in being prosecuted for everything the protest as a whole did wrong.

I also cried "censorship!" when 8chan got kicked off Cloudflare, when Facebook banned white nationalism, and when a cartoonist was fired from a rural newspaper after criticizing agribusiness.

I hope this helps you to a less strawman-like view of free-speech crusaders.

The problem is that what garners the attention of said free-speech crusaders tends to be wildly unbalanced.

The issues of FB banning white nationalism and 8chan being kicked off of cloudflare incited a massive thread and attention here on HN. Then you have stories like this one with the government itself engaging in very selective measures in attempt to censure people and it doesn't gain nearly the same amount of attention as it should.

I've posted various similar stories here on HN and there is a very obvious slant towards what 'violations' of freedom of speech invoke a larger response here on HN or across the various tech communities.

Are you sure they didn't get more attention from free-speech crusaders simply because they got more coverage in the media?

Speaking for myself, I see stories of government prosecution used to stifle speech extremely rarely (unless we count every instance of the cops getting too rough with protestors). Which is not to say it happens rarely, it's just not reported on much.

There's another aspect to this, I think. Cops have been arresting protesters for centuries - we've reached equilibrium there. But censorship by globe-spanning private companies is new, as is the growing share of communication controlled by them. Which makes it scarier, and harder to predict if it'll get much worse in the coming decades.

This response seems ridiculously low effort, and doesn't even try to conform to HN guidelines.

Can you elaborate any more on "free speech crusaders" and why whoever you think they are deserve only your disdain and dismissal?

I'm actually not clear on why it's relevant.

Please don't post ideological flamebait to HN.


A crime was committed , and DNA evidence is being used to solve the crime. How is this any different than using DNA evidence to solve other crimes?

Also, I find it interesting that a person who was there presumably out of respect for the environment, is polluting the environment by his smoking and littering.

I have three replies:

1. is civil disobedience a crime, or the duty of all engaged citizens?

2. dna proves he was present AT SOME POINT, at that location, but not that he did anything illegal. I suspect they don't actually need to win the case, they just want to chase this guy down to chill further protests.

3. while I don't like cigarette butts littered around either, the environmental impact of a cigarette and its filter is so far outweighed by the impact of the pipeline in question. To compare the two is ridiculous.

The whole point of civil disobedience is to intentionally commit a non-violent and non-destructive crime.

If there is no crime, in the US it's just a lawful protest as permitted by the First Amendment.

Pardon, you are right. I'm actually not trying to say that the action itself is not illegal, just that I believe the RIGHT thing to do is consider political actions differently from un-politically motivated actions. To potentially punish or pursue them less (protest, civil disobedience) or more (hate crimes, corruption, terrorism).

The protest was not illegal. Stop saying it was.

From the article: "100 demonstrators, many with their faces covered, halted construction and vandalized equipment." that is not a protest, that is crime.

The corporate capture of our government is a crime

halting construction is a protest, not a crime. Protests can disrupt things, and still be lawful. vandalism, sure that's technically a crime. We should definitely use DNA to track down someone who spray painted a bulldozer... three years later... makes sense.

I was not there, and I am not up on all the facts, but was there not criminal trespass and destruction of property?

The pipeline did not even cross tribal land. So construction could have proceeded fine if there was no trespassing. Therefore (obviously), there was trespassing and interference with legal construction activities, countered by private security and law enforcement at various times.

Do you really want to live in a country where DNA evidence is used years after the fact to prosecute people for trespass? Bear in mind that DNA only establishes the accused's presence at the scene, and not the nature of any actions taken there beyond the smoking of the cigarette the DNA was obtained from.

Uuuh. No. Did I imply that somehow?

Either I can't write (which is possible) or you can't read (which is also possible), but where did that come from?

In your previous comment where you alluded to trespass. Surely you are aware that mere presence isn't proof of having committed vandalism absent other evidence that would render the DNA identification moot.

> was there not criminal trespass and destruction of property

On the trespass charges, most the land the protest took place on was on Standing Rock reservation, and used with permission, on federal land and used with explicit permission of the BLM, or on privately owned tracts of land and used with implicit permission in that the deeded landowner did not object to the use and their expressed objection would be necessary for it legally to be considered trespassing.

The destruction of property in this specific incident refers to a handful of people, including US Presidential Candidate Jill Stein, spray painting slogans on the scoop of a bulldozer. The main effect of this action was to protect the scoop against corrosion for a day or so before it was next used and the paint abraded again as it was once before on the first day the bulldozer was ever used after initially bought sporting a fresh coat of paint. Rather than bulldozer vandals from a scientific and practical viewpoint they would be more accurately described as bulldozer protectors.

There is also the issue that the specific land in question off the present "reservation" was acknowledged as being eternally the property of the Sioux people in a legitimate legal treaty ratified by the US Government, and the US Supreme Court has previously ruled that this treaty was legitimate and nothing abrogated it. So the issues of whether the US BLM correctly permitted the protest (they did) or the deeded landowner objected (he didn't) aren't even relevant at all from that legal viewpoint where all the land in question legally still belongs to the Sioux, not just from their own perspective, but from both ratified treaties and contemporary rulings of SCOTUS.

I disagree this evidence shows this crime was committed by this person. This wasn't one of the sites where a small organized crew of environmentalist hipsters vandalized a pipeline valve. It was the site of a large, legal, peaceful protest attended by tens of thousands of people. What evidence is there the person that smoked this cigarette committed the crime of "rioting"? There is none.

Civil disobedience wasn't a major factor in the protests.

The pipeline itself wasn't legal. It didn't properly comply with the permitting process. They "smurfed" the applications by dividing the pipeline into a series of tiny unrelated projects in order to avoid the required environmental reviews. Smurfing to avoid regulatory requirements is explicitly prohibited under federal law.

So yes, federal crimes were committed there. No evidence by this guy.

And were there crimes by any protestors? Yes! One woman, a convicted felon, fired a gun while being apprehended by police. It later turned out the gun was planted on her by an FBI informant who had sexually assaulted her, but legally she was in violation of federal law because she possessed a firearm. So that was illegal to be sure. A bit reminiscent of similar FBI operations where mentally deficient and gullible persons are recruited by FBI agents and coerced into plotting terrorists acts that are entirely designed and organized by the FBI.

The main protest acquired permission from relevant federal authorities and movement leaders clearly communicated to protestors that violence, weapons, and drugs were all unacceptable. This was a legitimate protest, not civil disobedience. Though obviously many like to argue it was illegal, and King's Birmingham march as well, and the dogs sicced on protestors and firehoses in Alabama by law enforcement were every bit as legal and justified as the dogs and firehoses deployed against protestors in the Dakotas during this decade.

This is a really excellent breakdown and added several details (like smurfing) that I was previously unaware of, not having had any involvement in these protests. Thanks.

I appreciate your comment. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the lawyer that really figured out a lot about the smurfing. He talked to us one evening about the legal problems when people had gone to the casino one night because weather conditions were so bad and the casino opened the doors to let people crash on the floor.

.. because, the motivation to prosecute, and then the penalty for conviction, is not evenly applied across populations, nor proportional to the activity which is being called crime. Many future scenarios societally include escalated penalties, escalated prosecution and escalated statements by various parties to unequally apply the force of law, for political or other reasons, on human actors.

Casual, personal items used to determine identity and lead to prosecution years later, are of societal concern for a lot of reasons.

The character smear of the subject in the story, with a statement that implies one cigarette in the wilderness is on par with some invented hypocrisy, is typical of baiting-style political talk, and probably not appreciated among thinking people who are actually considering the issues and circumstances.

For me, it's odious because it's in the vein of:

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." [1]

I think it's politically motivated abuse of process intended to curtail protest speech.

[1] attributed (attribution disputed) to Cardinal Richelieu: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Cardinal_Richelieu

If you want to prosecute people for trespass based on DNA alone, consider the fact that is a regular supply of DNA-keyed evidence available for free in the ashtrays of many bars, convenience-store trashcans, and so on. Indeed, if you get into a dispute with a vindictive neighbor it's probably not hard for them to get your DNA from your trash and use it to cause you a serious legal headache while you establish your alibi.

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