Pipeline protester who refused to testify back behind bars

March 4, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Dakota Access Pipeline protester who has refused to provide testimony to a federal grand jury is back behind bars.

Steve Martinez, 46, was held in contempt of court Wednesday for the second time in a month. Jail records show Martinez is being held in the Burleigh Morton Detention Center.

He had been released on a technicality Feb. 22 following 19 days of incarceration, but was given another subpoena, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

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Martinez’s attorneys have said his detainment is tied to a lawsuit filed by Sophia Wilansky and government attempts to blame protesters. The 21-year-old woman was severely injured in a violent clash between pipeline protesters and law enforcement in November 2016. Martinez drove Wilansky to get medical aid.

Wilansky has sued law enforcement officers and Morton County, alleging police intentionally targeted her with a concussion grenade. Officers have denied wrongdoing.

Martinez was subpoenaed in December 2016 to go before a grand jury and provide testimony and items including photos, according to his attorneys. He didn’t cooperate, saying he believed authorities were trying to suppress the protest movement. Prosecutors later withdrew the subpoena without giving a reason.

Martinez was subpoenaed again last November, appeared before the grand jury on Feb. 3 and invoked his constitutional right to free speech and assembly and his right to remain silent, according to his attorneys. He could be imprisoned for up to 1 1/2 years.

The pipeline has been operating since June 2017, though American Indian tribes are still fighting in court to try to get it shut down. Tribes and environmental advocates fear an oil leak would contaminate the Missouri River.

Developer Energy Transfer and federal officials who permitted the pipeline maintain that it’s safe. The protest over six months in 2016 and 2017 resulted in more than 750 arrests.