A drone operated by activists during Sunday’s North Dakota pipeline protest was shot at by officers after the aircraft flew near a law-enforcement helicopter, leaving passengers “in fear of their lives.”
The drone “flew at a helicopter in a threatening manner” above a protest at a Dakota Access pipeline construction site, prompting officers to fire “less-than-lethal” ammunition at the drone, which was then landed by its operator, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
“A sheriff on board the helicopter reported to law enforcement on the ground that the helicopter pilot and passengers were ‘in fear of their lives,’ and that the ‘drone came after us,’” said the department in a Sunday press release, entitled, “Drone operator attacks helicopter using unmanned aircraft.”
The department said that the drone was in violation of Federal Aviation Administration rules, which bar drone activity near manned aircraft.
In a Facebook post, however, activists called it a “native media drone” and criticized law enforcement for firing on it.
“I don’t know, man, it’s crazy. They’re shooting at cameras. Why do they not want these cameras here is my question?” says a male activist filming the post.
Says another activist, whose face is obscured by a black bandana, hoodie and sunglasses, as he holds the damaged drone: “Obviously they just don’t want no one to find out what they’re doing there. They’re hiding a lot of sh**, you know?”
He adds, “They shot this drone, which is OK. I’ve got another one coming.”
This isn’t the first time drones have been used by activists at the anti-pipeline encampments near Cannon Ball, who are trying to stop the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline project over concerns about water quality and sacred burial and cultural sites.
Two anti-pipeline protesters have already been charged with crimes related to drone activity, one with stalking private-security vehicles and another with reckless endangerment for flying near a North Dakota Highway Patrol helicopter during a Sept. 6 demonstration.
The Sunday protest, which drew about 200 protesters using eight horses, prompted law enforcement to shut down Highway 1806 near Mandan for the second day in a row.
The Obama administration has lent support to the 10-week-old protest, led by the Standing Rock Sioux and national environmental groups, by asking Energy Transfer Partners to stop work voluntarily on the project after a federal judge cleared the way earlier this month for construction.
Officers have made more than 200 arrests during protests while grappling with a spike in crime near the camps, which hold between 1,500 and 2,500 activists, including vandalism and the shooting and butchering of livestock.