Judge won’t dismiss complaint against pipeline security firm
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A state judge is refusing to throw out a complaint that a North Carolina-based private security firm operated illegally in North Dakota during protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Judge John Grinsteiner also is declining for now to restrict evidence during TigerSwan’s upcoming civil trial or to dismiss company founder and President James Reese as a defendant. He ruled there are enough questions about the company’s actions and that Reese “is legally accountable for conduct performed by TigerSwan.”
North Dakota’s Private Investigative and Security Board sued TigerSwan and Reese last June, alleging the company operated without a license in the state. The board seeks to ban TigerSwan from North Dakota and also could seek thousands of dollars in fines and fees.
Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners hired TigerSwan, which was founded by retired military special forces members. TigerSwan maintains it provided consulting services that don’t require a North Dakota license, and that any investigative work occurred at the company’s headquarters in North Carolina and would not be subject to regulation by North Dakota’s licensing board.
TigerSwan attorney Lynn Boughey asked Grinsteiner to bar any evidence about TigerSwan activities conducted outside of North Dakota.
The board objected to the request and disputed TigerSwan’s description of the company’s work. Board attorney Monte Rogneby also argued that TigerSwan tried to circumvent Louisiana’s denial of a license in that state last summer by creating a shell corporation through an employee, which he said is further evidence of why the company shouldn’t be allowed to operate in North Dakota “to protect the public interest.”
Boughey called that assertion “a total misrepresentation of the facts.” TigerSwan maintains the contracted employee worked for a client, did not report to TigerSwan and was trying to set up her own business.
Grinsteiner sided with the state on the evidence issue, ruling the request was premature and should have waited until the two sides are done exchanging evidence, a process known as discovery. Boughey said he likely will renew the request later.
“The court is letting them try to find any real evidence that supports their basically bald assertions,” he said.
Grinsteiner refused Boughey’s request to dismiss the board’s complaint altogether.
“There are conflicting accounts about the actions performed by TigerSwan and whether or not those actions took place in North Dakota or elsewhere,” the judge said. “Questions for a jury to determine.”
A five-day trial on the civil suit is scheduled to begin Oct. 8.
The $3.8 billion pipeline began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois last June. While it was being built, six months of protests in North Dakota by opponents who feared environmental harm resulted in 761 arrests.
Pipeline opponents have denounced TigerSwan for allegedly using military-style counter-terrorism measures, having a close working relationship with public law enforcement and using propaganda. TigerSwan maintains it’s the victim of a smear campaign, and public law agencies in North Dakota have repeatedly denied working closely with the company.
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