Board: Pipeline security company operated without license

Dakota Access pipeline encampment
Protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline camp on Oct. 26, 2016, near Cannon Ball, N.D.
James MacPherson | AP Photo 2016

North Dakota regulators are suing a North Carolina-based private security firm hired by the developer of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline, alleging it operated in the state without a license and has continued doing so since being denied one.

North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board has asked a state judge to stop TigerSwan's armed workers from continuing to monitor the pipeline system. It also is seeking attorney fees and administrative fines that could total thousands of dollars from the company and President James Reese for operating without a license, a misdemeanor carrying a potential sentence of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

TigerSwan didn't answer phone calls or respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday. The Texas-based pipeline developer, Energy Transfer Partners, also didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

The pipeline began commercial operations June 1, moving oil from western North Dakota to a distribution point in Illinois where it can be shipped to the Gulf Coast. Four Sioux tribes in the Dakotas are still fighting in federal court in Washington, D.C., hoping to persuade a judge to shut down the line.

The pipeline was finished earlier this year after the Trump administration pushed for its completion. It had been delayed by lawsuits and nearly a year of on-the-ground protests in North Dakota by tribes and environmental groups that fear environmental harm, a claim ETP disputes. The protests resulted in 761 arrests between August and February.

The Private Investigative and Security Board alleges in court documents filed Tuesday that TigerSwan employees with semi-automatic rifles and handguns protected workers and equipment at construction sites, conducted intelligence on protesters, including placing or trying to place undercover agents within the protest groups, and even monitored vehicle traffic on a state highway. The board says TigerSwan is still providing round-the-clock security along the pipeline in the state.

The board maintains it notified TigerSwan in September that the company wasn't properly licensed. The company denied conducting private security in the state but at the same time applied for a license. The board denied the request in December, citing Reese's alleged criminal history, which he denied. A month later, the board rejected the application again, saying it was incomplete.

TigerSwan was founded by retired military special forces members. Internal company documents indicate that employees conducted an aggressive, multifaceted operation against pipeline protesters that included maintaining a close working relationship with public law enforcement.

Native American advocates say the report lends credence to their belief that law enforcement favored private industry in the dispute. Law enforcement and ETP have said their top priority was the safety of everyone involved.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who spearheaded the law enforcement response to the protests, didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

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