Bakken Pipeline Protester Using Climate Justification Defense Found Guilty of Trespassing

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Dakota Access pipeline protester Kriss Wells at the Boone County Courthouse. Photo via Fallon Forum

Kriss Wells, one of 30 people arrested last August during a Boone County protest against the Dakota Access pipeline and the first in Iowa to take his case to court, was found guilty of trespassing Wednesday by a jury convened in the Boone County Courthouse.

Wells’ case was unique both in that he was the only protester arrested in Boone County that day to plead not guilty and request a trial by jury and in that he used a justification defense, claiming his actions were a necessarily attempt to stop the construction of the pipeline for the sake of Iowa’s water and future generations who will suffer more directly from the negative impacts of climate change.

Despite the guilty verdict, pipeline opponents hope that Wells’ case will set a precedent for future court arguments that acts of civil disobedience were justified in defense of Iowa water quality and of the planet against climate change, as well as to defend private land from being unfairly seized for corporate profit through eminent domain as the Iowa Utilities Board ultimately allowed to move forward.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the jury’s decision,” Wells said in a statement Wednesday. :Court rulings have been all over the board in this pipeline fight, and I hope for a different outcome with my trial in Calhoun County on June 28. I did this in part for my grandkids and their future, and I’ll continue to speak out and take action.”

On June 17, protesters plan to meet in Pilot Mound before departing on a Des Moines River flotilla against the pipeline similar to the one they did a year ago in Boone County. Like the first flotilla, the upcoming action will cross under the County Highway E18 bridge near where the pipeline travels underneath the river. Then, on July 1, pipeline opponents plan to stage a protest against the IUB as a lawsuit against the board brought by the Iowa Sierra Club remains pending before the state Supreme Court.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.