A Denver woman accused of shooting at officers during protests in North Dakota against the Dakota Access oil pipeline has been sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison.
Red Fawn Fallis, 39, was accused of firing a handgun three times while resisting arrest on 27 October 2016. No one was hurt. Fallis, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, denied intentionally trying to injure anyone and claimed not to remember firing the gun after being tackled by police.
She pleaded guilty on 22 January to civil disorder and illegal possession of a gun by a convicted felon. She has a 2003 conviction in Colorado for being an accessory to a felony crime. Court records show she was accused of driving a car for a man who shot and wounded another man.
Prosecutors in the pipeline case agreed to drop a count of discharge of a firearm during a felony crime of violence and to recommend a sentence of no more than seven years in prison. The defense asked for no more than two and a half years.
Hovland handed down his sentence on Wednesday in a courtroom filled with dozens of Fallis’s supporters.
Debate during the hearing centered on whether Fallis intentionally fired at officers, and how much her troubled childhood and history of abusive adult relationships contributed to her frame of mind.
A psychologist called by the defense testified that Fallis suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and a physiology professor said she might have involuntarily fired the gun without even being aware of it.
The assistant US attorney David Hagler questioned the assertions.
Judge Hovland concluded that “nobody knows what the real purpose was” of Fallis firing the gun but that “at a minimum [she] committed a menacing-type assault on the officers”.
Fallis’s attorneys said the decision not to take the case to trial was based on anti-activist sentiment in the area and unsuccessful attempts to have Hovland order the prosecution to turn over more information, including details about an FBI informant Fallis alleges seduced her and owned the gun.
The government maintained in court documents that it turned over all information about the informant and that “defendants’ reference to the FBI informant as some sort of complex issue is misplaced”.
Fallis’ arrest was one of 761 that authorities made in southern North Dakota during the height of protests in 2016 and 2017. At times, thousands of pipeline opponents gathered in the region to protest the $3.8bn project to move North Dakota oil to Illinois, but the effort didn’t stop the project.
The pipeline has been operating for a year. Opponents fear environmental harm, and four Native American tribes in the Dakotas are still fighting it in court. The Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners says it’s safe.