MANDAN, N.D. – The dog handlers who provided security for Dakota Access LLC during a Sept. 3 clash with protesters were not properly licensed to provide security in North Dakota, a Morton County investigation found.
Names of the unlicensed security officers have been forwarded to prosecutors for possible charges, but investigators were only able to identify two of the seven dog handlers, said Capt. Jay Gruebele of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
Providing private security services without a license is a Class B misdemeanor in North Dakota.
Six pipeline opponents were bit by the guard dogs and a dozen or more people were pepper sprayed when the group clashed with security officers in a pipeline construction zone on Sept. 3, according to a protest organizer with the Red Warrior Camp.
Morton County led an investigation into whether the security officers were properly licensed and forwarded results to both the state’s attorney and the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board, which regulates the private security industry and can also issue civil penalties.
The seven dog handlers were with Frost Kennels of Ohio, which was not licensed to provide security in North Dakota as required by state law, the investigation found.
Frost Kennels was working under Silverton, a private security company working for Dakota Access, Gruebele said. Silverton is no longer working for Dakota Access, he said.
Frost Kennels did not cooperate with investigators, who were only able to identify two of the seven dog handlers through social media, Gruebele said.
However, Forum News Service identified three additional private security officers working Sept. 3 who are named in a Bureau of Criminal Investigation affidavit made public last week who are not licensed in the state.
The two dog handlers’ names that have been forwarded to prosecutors include Ashley Welch, who appears in video captured by reporters with the independent news program “Democracy Now!” with a dog that has blood on its mouth and nose.
Prosecutors attempted to charge “Democracy Now!” journalist Amy Goodman with rioting, in part basing their affidavit on statements from Welch that said Goodman was actively protesting and “trying to get the protesters riled.” A judge refused to sign the complaint.
Gruebele said the security officers had no intention of using the dogs or the handlers for security work on Sept. 3, but because of the protest events the dogs were deployed to try to keep protesters under control.
The security company 10-Code also worked for Dakota Access on Sept. 3 but was not involved with the use of dogs, Gruebele said.
The investigation does not have any information about how many protesters were injured.
“To date, there have been no victims, no protesters that have ever come forward to the sheriff’s department or to any other organization to file a report that they were injured or bitten by a dog on Sept. 3 during the incident,” Gruebele said.
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation is doing a parallel investigation regarding the incident, including looking into reports that security guards were assaulted, Gruebele said.
In addition, the Private Investigation and Security Board is conducting its own investigation after receiving complaints, including investigating the use of guard dogs, said Monte Rogneby, an attorney for the board.
The board’s investigation is expected to be complete in seven to 10 days, Rogneby said.
A summary by the sheriff’s department said there is no way of confirming whether lists of employees provided by security firms are accurate or if names were purposely withheld.
“Many of the initial security officers have come and gone and there is no way to prove who was doing security work,” Gruebele wrote in the summary.
A spokeswoman for Dakota Access said all security firms working for the pipeline company are properly licensed.
As of Oct. 18, several security companies were working for Dakota Access. According to the Morton County investigation, TigerSwan Security is in charge of Dakota Access intelligence and supervises the overall security. Leighton Security and HE Security are in charge of equipment security at work sites. The firms 10-Code and Russle Group Security are in charge of drilling operations and SRG Security is in charge of filming operations, according to the Morton County investigation.
The Sept. 3 clash occurred after pipeline opponents rushed a Morton County construction area west of Highway 1806 where crews were bulldozing land the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had identified the day before as containing burial grounds.
Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, disputes the tribe’s claims that burial grounds were destroyed, and a state archaeologist’s review did not identify sacred sites in that area.
Morton County concurs with the state archaeologist’s findings after three separate walk-throughs of the area in question were conducted, said county spokeswoman Donnell Preskey.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, which condemned the actions of the security guards as excessive force, would like to see the investigations come to a fair resolution, said policy director Jennifer Cook.
“It seems as though the process for charging journalists and protesters with criminal charges has been relatively speedy and timely, whereas you have actual video footage of private individuals using force against other private individuals and yet we haven’t seen any type of resolution to that yet,” Cook said.