Sheriff channeled resources to use against Dakota Access Pipeline protests and endorsed company’s Louisiana project
December 13, 2017, Baton Rouge, LA – Today, human rights attorneys filed a lawsuit against the St. Charles, Louisiana Parish Sheriff’s Office (SCPSO) and Sheriff Greg Champagne, seeking the release of public records related to involvement in the law enforcement response to protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota. The request also seeks communications and records with companies involved in the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana.
The lawsuit comes after CCR and New Orleans-based human rights attorney Bill Quigley submitted a written request to SCPSO under the state’s public records law for a variety of documents in September, to which they replied inadequately, according to the filing.
“We saw a dangerous blurring of the lines between law enforcement and private corporations at Standing Rock,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pamela Spees, who grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, one of the communities that would be affected by the Bayou Bridge pipeline. “Louisiana residents have a right to know what role local officials played in that situation and how it relates to events playing out closer to home.”
In response to CCR’s September request for all public records and communications relating to SCPSO operations in North Dakota, SCPSO only responded with bookkeeping records—but the filing points out that it is highly likely there are more records relating to this request. In 2016, Sheriff Greg Champagne, then also serving as President of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), traveled to North Dakota to observe the law enforcement response to protests against the DAPL. Sheriff Champagne also dispatched SCPSO employees to travel—to the tune of nearly $36,000— to North Dakota to support the production of a pro-law enforcement video series called “Know the Truth”.
The filing today also seeks to investigate larger connections among SCPSO, Sheriff Champagne, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), and TigerSwan LLC, in light of ETP’s proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline project in Louisiana. The proposed pipeline would span 162 miles between Lake Charles and St. James, passing through 11 parishes, and impacting 700 bodies of water, including in the Atchafalaya Basin. TigerSwan, LLC is listed as a “Silver Partner” on the National Sheriffs’ Association website, which indicates that it has made financial contributions to the association, and when Greg Champagne was president of the NSA he publicly endorsed the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. TigerSwan has been the subject of in-depth reporting and public criticism as a result its controversial tactics, including deploying a highly militarized response to civilian protests, with one former military official denouncing such tactics as “extreme by all measures.”
“The people of St. Charles and Louisiana at large have a right to know how a local sheriff’s department is using public resources to promote a pipeline company that puts their communities at risk,” said Louisiana-based cooperating attorney Bill Quigley.
The lawsuit comes as a loose-knit coalition in Louisiana continues its organizing in opposition to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. On Wednesday this week they invoked a separate public records request to force Bayou Bridge LLC to make its records, including internal communications, available to the public. A month ago, they also petitioned the Louisiana State Board of Private Security Examiners to let them participate in a hearing regarding the state licensure of TigerSwan, which is seeking a license presumably to support ETP in its attempt to develop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline as they did with DAPL in North Dakota.
For more information, visit CCR’s case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.