News by VICE

Standing Rock protester injured in clash may lose her arm

by David Gilbert
Nov 22 2016, 10:53am

A 21-year-old New York woman is fighting to save her arm after she was severely injured by explosives during clashes with police at Standing Rock in North Dakota on Monday.

Sophia Wilansky claims her arm was “devastatingly injured” when a concussion grenade fired by the police exploded, but the Morton County sheriff’s department has denied responsibility, instead suggesting a propane bottle rigged by the protesters themselves might be to blame.

Wilansky was injured at around 4 a.m. Monday morning as police used water cannons, teargas and rubber bullets to break up protests at the Blackwater Bridge, just north of the Standing Rock encampments where protesters have been seeking to block the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Friends, please know that I was severely, devastatingly injured by the pipeline pigs last night,” Wilansky wrote on her Facebook page before she was airlifted to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, 400 miles away.

There she underwent eight hours of emergency surgery to save her arm. Wilansky’s father told the Guardian that his daughter had been hit by a concussion grenade fired by a police officer which had damaged the arteries, medial nerve, muscle and bone in her left arm had been blown away. “The best-case scenario is no pain and 10-20 percent functionality,” he said.

Wilansky is scheduled to undergo further surgeries in the coming days and there is still a chance her arm could be amputated, her father said.

This account of what happened was backed up by Wilansky’s friend and fellow activist Vaimoana Niumeitolu, who spoke to the New York Daily News, but the Morton County sheriff’s department has a different take on what happened.

At a press conference on Monday, just hours after the injuries were sustained, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier denied the police fired the grenade, and suggested it may have been an explosive rigged by the protesters themselves.

“We don’t know where it came from,” Kirchmeier said, adding that protesters were firing fuel canisters at officers. “The tactics the protesters have used have been increasing in their aggressiveness.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, sheriff’s spokeswoman Maxine Herr said the police “didn’t deploy anything that should have caused that type of damage to her arm.” Herr added that medical officials found Wilansky some way away from the action, at a nearby casino: “We’re not sure how her injury was sustained.”

Gruesome images of Wilansky’s injuries were shared widely on social media on Monday, and fellow activists have established a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for Wilansky’s medical treatment. In the first 12 hours the campaign has raised over $140,000 of its $180,000 goal from more than 5,000 people.

In a statement, the Standing Rock Medic and Healer council said that Wilansky was one of 26 people hospitalized on Monday following the clashes. According to activists, a further 200 people were treated for hypothermia after protesters were doused by water cannons despite the freezing temperature.