Police Relied on News Footage, Facebook Posts to Charge Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters

A Dakota Access Pipeline security worker with an assault rifle talks to pipeline opponents during a standoff that unfolded Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in the area of the pipeline protest. He was later removed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Photo courtesy of Ryan Redhawk

Authorities used news footage and social media, but did not interview protester witnesses, when they charged three men with endangering and terrorizing an armed pipeline security worker on Oct.

During a preliminary hearing on Monday, Bureau of Criminal Investigations Special Agent Scott Betz repeatedly referenced a KX News video and Facebook posts as he testified in support of charges against Brennon Nastacio, 36, and Michael Fasig, 46.

Fasig and Israel Hernandez, 22, who waived his hearing Monday, are charged with felony reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. Nastacio is charged with felony terrorizing. The men pleaded not guilty, and the case was set for trial in October.

Authorities say Fasig and Hernandez crashed their cars into the security worker’s vehicle in order to get him off the road. Nastacio allegedly walked toward the man with a knife. The incident took place on Highway 1806 as protesters were cleared from a northern “front line” camp.

No charges have been filed against the security worker, Kyle Thompson, who disguised himself as a protester with a bandanna over his face in order to take photos of burning equipment and carried a loaded assault rifle and handgun in his unmarked truck, according to Betz.

During the hearing, Betz said he found posts of Fasig online saying he had a “good day” because he got to “ram” into a DAPL security guard’s truck. He also apparently tried to raise money on a GoFundMe account for repairs.

After he was charged, Betz interviewed Fasig over the phone. Fasig allegedly told him that he was not the one driving the car.

Betz said he identified Nastacio from the KX News video, where he apparently holds a knife up by his head for one to three seconds as he walks toward Thompson.

One protester sent in a statement about what he witnessed just north of the main Oceti Sakowin camp, but Betz said he was unable to reach him when he left one phone message.

Though Betz did not interview any protesters about the incident, he talked to Thompson, who indicated he feared for his life.

Thompson said he drove to Highway 1806 to check on burning equipment. He approached a gate and asked if he could take photos, and the crowd became “riled up” and angry, leading him to drive through the ditch to get away. During this time, two vehicles struck his car, disabling it. He got out of the vehicle with an assault rifle he had in the truck and walked toward the water where he was surrounded by some protesters with knives, he told Betz.

Betz said Thompson had the gun pointed down and did not fire it, though a crime lab investigation could not be certain. The pickup was set on fire — potentially by a flare gun.

Betz said Thompson did not indicate why he fled the protesters or walked into the water.

Defense attorneys Tyrone Turner and Bruce Nestor indicated in their cross-examination of Betz that they would argue at trial that the men feared for their lives and the lives of others near them.

Asked by Turner if he believed that Fasig showed “manifest indifference for the value of human life,” Betz answered “yes.”

“And Mr. Thompson’s didn’t?” Turner asked.

“From the information I have, no,” Betz said.