Attempted murder charges were dropped in a North Dakota courtroom Monday against a Standing Rock protester accused of firing a gun at police — but the protester now faces federal charges that could land her in prison for up to 10 years.
Morton County dropped its attempted murder charges against Red Fawn Fallis to clear the way for federal prosecutors to pursue the charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
About 15 family members and supporters, all of them wearing red “Free Red Fawn” t-shirts, watched in silence from the gallery. Her sisters told VICE News they fear she is being “railroaded” by authorities and won’t get a fair trial.
“There are people in North Dakota that in their minds have already convicted Red Fawn of these allegations, but she deserves balanced and fair reporting of what we know to be true,” her uncle and Denver American Indian Movement member Glenn Morris told VICE News.
The 37-year-old Fallis, who is from the Pine Ridge Indian Reserve in South Dakota, was arrested on Oct. 27 during a 400-person rally taking place near construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which protesters, who call themselves water protectors, say will poison tribal water supplies and destroy sacred sites.
According to sworn police affidavits, officers attempted to disperse the crowd, warning them that if they didn’t move, they would be arrested. When protesters refused, police employed non-lethal rubber bullets, tear gas, and a long-range acoustic device, or LRAD. Police alleged protesters in turn threw feces and molotov cocktails at them. In all, 147 protesters, including Fallis, were arrested that day.
According to police affidavits filed in connection to the attempted murder charges, Pennington County Deputy Thad Schmit spotted Fallis “being an instigator and acting disorderly” so he “took [her] to the ground.”
Police allege she resisted arrest by tucking her arms under her body, and in the struggle that ensued, they heard two gunshots ring out, and saw the ground near one officer’s left knee “explode.” Officers say they grabbed a gun from her left hand and handcuffed her.
She did not have the gun in her hand when police took her down, the affidavit states. But they believe she was able to get the gun when the officer let go of her left arm.
On the way to jail, Fallis “made the statement that she was trying to pull the gun out of her pocket and the deputies jumped her and the gun went off.” She also allegedly told probation and parole officers that they were lucky she didn’t shoot “all you fuckers.”
None of the officers said they saw her pull the trigger. One officer said in his affidavit that two shots were fired, while another said that three shots were.
Before the charges were dropped on Monday, Fallis’s sisters pointed to a video that shows a line of police standing in front of someone apparently being arrested; the person is being pinned on the ground by officers. Her sisters say the person is Fallis.
Then two shots appear to ring out, followed by a third. “Put your weapon down!” officers shout.
Regarding the affidavits, Morris said, “Certainly that’s the police side of the story, and in the legal system in this country, there’s a presumption of innocence, and the burden is on the state to prove every single element of the crime that they’re alleging.”
The family is now trying to raise money for her defense by selling T-shirts, and the Standing Rock camps have rallied behind her as well. Large painted banners declaring “Free Red Fawn” hang throughout the camp. Her supporters have compared her case to that of Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement who was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1977. “Free Leonard Peltier” signs also pepper the camp.
“Those people who arrested her, they’ve been practicing on hurting us, maiming us, crippling us, and being mean to us,” founding American Indian Movement member Dennis Banks told VICE News following a Standing Rock benefit concert. “What’s familiar about [her case] is the continuance of the kinds of action against native people.”
On Monday, the U.S. government asked for Fallis to be held in detention, which she did not contest. A date for a bail hearing has not been set.
“Love you sister,” called a voice from the gallery as Fallis’s arraignment ended.
“Love you too,” Fallis replied as an officer walked her out of the courtroom.