Standing Rock Water Protector Reaches Non-Cooperating Plea Agreement
Above Photo: Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC). CreativeResistance.org
MANDAN, NORTH DAKOTA – On Thursday February 8, Michael Giron will appear in federal court in Bismarck for a change of plea hearing as per the terms of a non-cooperating agreement with prosecutors.
Mr. Giron, who is known as Little Feather, was charged with Civil Disorder and Use of Fire to Commit a Federal Felony Offense, arising from events of October 27, 2016. Under this plea agreement, the Use of Fire charge – which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and the possibility of up to 15 years in prison – will be dropped entirely, and Little Feather will take responsibility for aiding a civil disorder.
Subject to the acceptance of the plea agreement by Judge Daniel Hovland, who is presiding over the case, prosecutors and the defense will jointly recommend a sentence of 36 months on the Civil Disorder charge, although the judge does have the authority to go as high as five years. This is a non-cooperating agreement relating only to Little Feather’s own actions and does not require any testimony or information about anyone else.
Little Feather and his legal team were facing monumental challenges including the prospect of trial with a hostile jury pool, limited discovery, and the risk of a long prison sentence.
In December of 2016, WPLC brought in an expert to poll the potential jurors to determine the extent of local bias against Water Protectors. The findings were clear: 77% of potential jurors in Morton County and 85% in Burleigh County had already decided that defendants were guilty and many potential jurors have close connections to law enforcement or the oil industry.
Court records show that Little Feather’s legal team brought this data to the court’s attention, and filed a change of venue motion seeking to move the trial out of North Dakota, but that motion was denied.
Similarly, the court denied a motion to compel discovery and a motion to force prosecutors to search the records of private security and military contractors who coordinated closely with law enforcement throughout the encampment period, seeking critical surveillance and other records as well as determining the extent of the role of informants in the encampments.
Little Feather is a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, and was raised in Santa Barbara, California. He was invited to Standing Rock by his Lakota family members, where he worked tirelessly tending the sacred fire and serving the needs of elders, women and children living in the Oceti Šakowiŋ camp. In recognition of this dedication, local elders assigned him the role of peacekeeper, known in Lakota tradition as Akicita.
Little Feather is proud to have stood with Water Protectors against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and grateful to be a member of the Oceti Šakowiŋ community. His time in camp was a cleansing experience that helped put him in touch with his spirituality and his indigenous identity, and opened his heart to a prayerful way of life that he looks forward to sharing with his family upon his release.
“Our time at Standing Rock was a life transformation for Little Feather and for our entire family,” said Leoyla Cowboy, Little Feather’s wife. “We are deeply grateful for all the support from our community and for all the teachings and the ceremonies that we were invited to attend in camp. We look forward to welcoming my husband home to continue to give back those teachings to others.”
“Little Feather is my hero. The whole family loves and adores him. He keeps us strong and we want him home with us. He is such a blessing to our family,” she added.
The change of plea hearing will be at 1:30PM on Thursday February 8, 2018 in Bismarck federal court before Chief Judge Daniel Hovland. Supporters are encouraged to attend to show solidarity with Little Feather and his family.
Little Feather has been incarcerated since March 9, 2017. Information on how to support him is available on his support committee website. He is represented by attorneys Peter Schoenburg of New Mexico and Timothy R. Lohraff of Washington.
This agreement comes shortly after plea agreements were announced for two other Water Protectors with federal charges: Red Fawn Fallis and Rattler (Michael Markus). There are three remaining Water Protectors with pending federal charges preparing for trials in the coming months and over 300 who have pending state charges.