- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dakota Access pipeline foes are accusing police of lobbing a grenade during Sunday’s rioting that badly injured the arm of an activist, but law enforcement says the only dangerous explosives on the scene belonged to the protesters.

Sophia Wilansky, 21, underwent surgery Tuesday in Minnesota for injuries to her arm and hand sustained during a violent standoff on the Backwater Bridge near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

About 400 activists were stopped as they attempted to clear a barricade and move onto the highway during the late-night clash, which saw officers deploy tear gas, beanbag rounds and water hoses against protesters who set fires, threw rocks and hurled burning debris.

Wayne Wilansky, Sophia’s father, said at a press conference in front of the Hennepin County Medical Center that her arm was “pretty much blown off” and that she may need as many as 20 surgeries to save her arm and hand.

“We can’t be throwing grenades at people who are peacefully protesting or singing and chanting and supporting our indigenous nations,” Mr. Wilansky said in a video posted by Russia Today. “That’s not the way we behave. This is not Afghanistan, it’s not Iraq.”

But law enforcement said Tuesday that officers never used grenades — they threw flash bangs, sometimes called “stun grenades,” which are designed to produce bright light and loud noise but not inflict serious injury.

SEE ALSO: Dakota Access pipeline: Protesters set fires as deputies deploy tear gas in latest rioting

“The injuries sustained are inconsistent with any resources utilized by law enforcement and are not a direct result of any tools or weapons used by law enforcement,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson said in a statement. “This incident remains under investigation .”

Already, however, investigators say they have found materials behind the protest line used to make Molotov cocktails, including 1-pound propane cylinders, glass bottles and rocks.

During the melee, officers say they heard an explosion at 3 a.m. Monday as they tried to flush two men and a woman behind a plywood barricade who were attempting to “hide their activity.” After the explosion, protesters pulled a woman from under a burned vehicle and fled the scene.

“The subjects were given opportunities to retreat back, but it became obvious that they were tampering with the vehicle or planting a device,” said Lt. Iverson. “Their strange mannerisms led law enforcement to believe they were there for a purpose with a calculated effort to either cause harm or breach the line.”

The discovery of the bomb-making materials prompted speculation about whether Ms. Wilansky may have been hurt as protesters attempted to devise or throw a Molotov cocktail. Such handmade explosives were used by activists in the Oct. 27 rioting.

The center also said that protesters made a radio announcement during Sunday’s clash saying that “all females were to leave the protest, individuals were coming from the camp with guns, and live streaming was to cease.”

“This led law enforcement to believe the protesters were preparing to charge the line and conduct criminal activity the protesters did not want recorded,” said the North Dakota Joint Information Center.

Foes of the Dakota Access set up a crowdfunding site for Ms. Wilansky, which raised $230,000 in less than a day, while blasting police for what they described as overly aggressive, militarized tactics against nonviolent protesters.

“Sophia was giving out bottles of water to protectors holding down the space when she was shot with a concussion grenade,” said the GoFundMe site. “This was the response of police and DAPL mercenaries as she and other brave protectors attempted to hold the line against the black snake in service of protecting our water.”

Law enforcement closed down the bridge after it was burned and damaged by protesters during the Oct. 27 rioting. Only one person was arrested in Sunday’s protest, with total arrests standing at 528 since Aug. 10.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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