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Sheriff in Wisconsin pulls deputies back from North Dakota pipeline deployment


Sheriff Dave Mahoney

Deputies from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin who were sent to North Dakota this week to aid police efforts at a contested pipeline site will return by Sunday and will not be replaced, as earlier planned, Sheriff Dave Mahoney said Wednesday.

After talking with “a wide cross-section of the community who all share the opinion that our deputies should not be involved in this situation,” Mahoney said, he decided to stop the Sheriff’s Office’s participation after one week.

The original plan was to rotate three teams of deputies Sunday-to-Sunday over three weeks, he said. He said reduced reimbursement of costs also played a part in the decision.

Dane County deputies were not involved in two incidents Monday in which arrests were made. One of those arrested was Madison Ald. Rebecca Kemble, who had traveled to Morton County, North Dakota, over the weekend to present the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe with a parchment copy of a recent City Council resolution expressing solidarity with those protesting the pipeline.

Kemble on Tuesday said she was acting as a legal observer, recording video of a ceremony featuring prayer, drumming and dancing, when she was grabbed and arrested near the pipeline site. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department characterized the incident as a riot, which Kemble disputed.

Mahoney said his decision was not based on any specific incident.

Ten deputies and three supervisors of the Dane County Special Events Team joined a group of 43 Wisconsin officers responding to a call for help from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The deputies were to provide assistance at the construction site of the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline, a 1,200-mile line from North Dakota to Illinois. Opponents of the pipeline worry it could taint drinking water on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and destroy cultural artifacts.

Lori Getter, spokeswoman for Wisconsin Emergency Management, said many of the officers were returning after one week on assignment.

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The one-week deployment “was the schedule we agreed to, and Dane County had agreed to, Sunday to Sunday,” she said. The Wisconsin State Patrol, which sent 17 people, was also ending deployment Sunday and returning Saturday, said Patricia Mayers, DOT spokesperson. Likewise, Rock County’s five officers, and two of four sent from St. Croix County. The four from Marathon County are there for two weeks, Getter said.

The state of North Dakota is paying expenses for bringing in law enforcement help at the pipeline construction site. While protesters have been at the site for months, numbers have been steadily increasing, and an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 pipeline opponents are encamped just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, about 25 miles south of Bismarck.

Mahoney agreed to send Dane County deputies, he said, because the request was made based on “our team’s experience in responding to highly volatile demonstrations. Since being on site (in North Dakota) our staff has seen the necessity of law enforcement involvement to protect public safety.

A portion of the protesters have resorted to harming individuals and damaging private property.”

Dane County’s deputies have not arrested anyone, he said.

“Our people have shined, they report they stood in line and were confronted with baseball bats and tire irons and being sprayed with wasp spray,” he said. “Our deputies said there was a need for law enforcement.”

He said he was proud of their participation, but “our assistance is complete, we have enough priorities here in our community to address.”

Also, deployment would begin to cost Dane County beyond what would be reimbursed, Mahoney said. After the first week, costs to pay for replacement shifts at home would not be covered.

“They would pay for the ones out there, but not for the ones here who were filling in, and that would be significant money,” he said.

Getter said reimbursement would typically include wages, overtime, mileage on squad cars and a per diem.

George Hesselberg is a senior reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.


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