Hennepin Co. sheriff's deputies leave Standing Rock protest

Elder Miles Allard implores protesters to retreat.
Standing Rock tribal elder Miles Allard implores protesters to retreat from a confrontation with police on Friday near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Updated: 6:30 p.m. | Posted: 5 p.m.

Hundreds of people protested last week, calling on the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office to bring back its staff and equipment from the Standing Rock pipeline protest.

Now, the sheriff's deputies and equipment are on their way back to Minnesota from the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in North Dakota.

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Morton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Rob Keller says all Minnesota law enforcement officers have been released as of Monday. He says the state fulfilled its part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC.

However, some state lawmakers who represent parts of Hennepin County say the decision by Sheriff Rich Stanek to send personnel and equipment there was inappropriate.

A protest moved inside City Hall.
The protest against the Dakota Access pipeline moved inside Minneapolis' City Hall on Friday.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

A group of state legislators who met with Stanek say they think the emergency assistance protocols only apply to natural disasters or an attack on the scale of 9/11.

"We have an assignment that we're going to go back and try and change a couple parts of the law that will make it clearer the distinction between different types of emergencies," said Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, who met with Stanek, "so we don't get ourselves in sort of a position again."

A sheriff's office spokesperson says Stanek has declined to comment on the meeting at this time.

Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, said Stanek told the group that about 30 members of the Sheriff's Office went to North Dakota.

Flanagan, who is also a citizen of the White Earth nation, says the participation of deputies from Minnesota in law enforcement activities at Standing Rock have set back efforts to improve community relationships, especially with Native Americans.

"Our big ask was, 'What is the sheriff's plan for rebuilding that trust with the community?'" said Flanagan. "Because it has been incredibly damaged and there will have to be much intent and strategy going forward to rebuild it."

Stanek's decision also drew criticism from Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who posted her disagreement with the sheriff on Facebook.

"I do not support Sheriff Stanek's decision to send his deputies to North Dakota, nor did we approve his decision to begin with," reads the statement. "I do not have any control over the Sheriff's actions, which I think were wrong, and I believe he should bring his deputies home, if he hasn't already. I strongly support the rights of all people to peacefully protest, including, tonight, the Standing Rock protest."

State Rep. Tony Cornish accused Smith of playing politics. In a press release, the Republican from Vernon Center, who is also a retired police officer, said Smith's statement was wrong.

"Tina Smith not only prioritized the rights of protesters over the needs of law enforcement but also displayed a shocking lack of knowledge in regards to public safety and emergency management," read Cornish's statement. "Neither of these traits are suitable for the person holding the second most powerful office in the State of Minnesota, and she owes the law enforcement community an apology."

Department of Public Safety spokesperson Bruce Gordon said EMAC is a mutual aid agreement between all 50 states.

"A requesting state asks for resources (people, equipment, etc.) based on their needs," he said. "Agencies in other states with those resources are able to respond to a request, but there is no obligation or order to participate."

Gordon added that North Dakota is paying for all costs associated with the request it made for assistance.