Journalist faces charges after arrest while covering Dakota Access pipeline protest

A journalist arrested in a broad sweep of a “rogue” protest camp near the Standing Rock reservation is facing criminal charges from North Dakota authorities.

Jenni Monet, 40, on assignment for Indian Country Today and the Center for Investigative Reporting, has been arrested and charged with criminal trespass and “engaging in a riot” by Morton County prosecutors. She was arrested Wednesday and released on bond late Thursday.

Monet was arrested as authorities rounded up about 75 “water protectors” attempting to set up a new protest camp on private land near the Cannonball River.  Police moved in Wednesday afternoon to prevent the establishment of the “Last Child Camp,” locking down the area with highway barricades.

Monet said she was there to document the story. She said she scaled a hill above the river, where dozens of opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline had erected tepees and stood, arms locked, facing police.

Police “asked me to leave,” and she attempted to do so, Monet said in an interview Friday. “I was walking away, I was halfway down the hill, and they still arrested me,” she said. 

She added that she had been observing the protesters from a distance, “clearly removed from the arrests,” and had already identified herself as a journalist on assignment. As the arresting officer fumbled with the zip ties on Monet’s hands, she recalls telling him, “Well, you could just not arrest me, because I’m a journalist.”

The arresting officer did not read Monet her Miranda rights, she said.  She was loaded onto a school bus and held for seven hours with other women, “stripped down to our long johns,” in metal cages in a Morton County jail parking garage. Late Wednesday evening, Monet was transferred to an indoor cell with five other women. 

Rob Keller, a spokesman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, said the department “respects the important role journalists play in our democracy and in the coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest.” He said he could not comment on the circumstances of Monet’s arrest.

“I have not seen the reports or video of the event, and it is still under investigation, so I can’t comment,” he said. However, he added, “If journalists don't leave after repeated requests by law enforcement to do so, they are subject to being arrested.”

Morton County has acknowledged the use of the cage-like holding pens. An officer at the Morton County Jail refused to comment Sunday on Monet’s complaints about the way she was treated after her arrest.

Monet, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe with a master’s degree in international politics from Columbia University, also contributes regularly to PBS’ “NewsHour.” She is not the first journalist charged in the 10-month fight over the $3.8-billion, 1,172-mile pipeline. 

In September, Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!,” was charged with engaging in a riot after her crew filmed dogs from a private pipeline security firm biting protesters. The charges were later dropped. In October, documentary producer Deia Schlosberg was charged with felony conspiracy after filming another pipeline protest. Those charges were also dropped.

“It’s incomprehensible,” Mark Trahant, a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota and former president of the Native American Journalists Assn., said of Monet’s detention. The arrest was particularly disturbing, Trahant said, given Monet’s reputation for covering all sides of the bitter dispute, including interviews with police, the Morton County sheriff, and North Dakota’s new governor, Doug Burgum. 

“Her commitment to the story is extraordinary,” Trahant said. Of the authorities, he said: “Once they knew who she was, they didn’t have to go through that. They could have interrupted the process and just released her. But Morton County just doesn’t do that. They’ve been very aggressive.”

Tolan is a special correspondent.

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