Woman injured in DAPL protest sues for evidence

Published: Feb. 6, 2018 at 12:18 PM CST
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A New York City woman who suffered a serious arm injury in an explosion while protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota is suing the federal government to obtain evidence, hoping it will bolster a civil rights lawsuit she plans to file against law enforcement.

Sophia Wilansky's lawsuit seeks the return of shrapnel and clothing taken from her while she was hospitalized following her November 2016 injury, or an opportunity to have the items analyzed by a forensic scientist she hired a year ago. She filed the federal lawsuit Friday against the FBI and other federal agencies.

Wilansky's father willingly surrendered the evidence after his daughter was injured in an explosion. He has since made several efforts to re-obtain it, but he has been rebuffed by federal authorities for more than a year, according to the family's attorney, Matthew Pelikan.

"Forensic analysis of Sophia's clothing and shrapnel may generate evidence relevant to Sophia's ability to obtain legal and financial redress for her injuries, including her massive medical bills, ongoing pain and suffering, and permanent disability and disfigurement," Pelikan argued in court documents.

Wayne Wilansky had told The Associated Press late last year that his daughter planned to file a lawsuit against law enforcement seeking monetary damages, and that the evidence could bolster her case.

The evidence lawsuit names numerous federal agencies and officials as defendants, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme in North Dakota and FBI agents Brian VanOosbree and Christian Freichels.

Wilansky, who is in her early 20s, was injured during a violent clash between protesters and police that's become the emblematic skirmish of the months-long protest in North Dakota that tried to block the pipeline's final construction phase. The four-state pipeline began carrying North Dakota oil to Illinois in June.

Protesters tried to push past a blocked highway bridge near their main encampment in late November 2016, but they were turned back by authorities using tear gas, rubber bullets and water sprays. Police said protesters threw objects including rocks, asphalt and water bottles at officers.

Wilansky suffered a left arm injury in an explosion and has had several surgeries. Protesters allege the blast was caused by a concussion grenade thrown by officers, but police maintain it was caused by a propane canister that protesters rigged to explode.

Court documents unsealed last fall indicate the government last spring sought evidence that might implicate Wilansky of federal crimes dealing with homemade explosives. She has not been charged with a crime.

"In light of this lack of activity, the government has no good faith basis for claiming an ongoing criminal investigation or a need for Sophia's clothing and shrapnel," Pelikan said.

Opponents of the pipeline fear it could cause environmental harm, and four Native American tribes in the Dakotas are fighting it in court. Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners says it's safe.

At times during the demonstrations, thousands of pipeline opponents gathered in southern North Dakota to protest the $3.8 billion project, resulting in 761 arrests in a six-month span in 2016 and 2017.