Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Police assaulting protesters with water cannons and tear gas. (Video by Digital Smoke Signals/YouTube)

DAPL Photographer Cleared of Charges After Drone Footage Proves His Case

Prosecutors said Aaron Turgeon had put police plane and water protectors in harm's way when he used a drone to capture footage over pipeline site

Nadia Prupis

A Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protester and photographer was cleared of all charges Thursday after he was accused of endangering a police plane with his drone.

Aaron Turgeon, also known as Prolific the Rapper, faced seven years in prison after he was arrested in October and charged with reckless endangerment and physical obstruction of a government function. Prosecutors said he had put the pilot of a surveillance plane, as well as water protectors on the ground, in harm's way when he used a drone to capture protest footage over a DAPL site.

The footage proved to be useful in the trial, which ended in one day after Judge Allan Schmalenberger found that Turgeon flew his drone in a "methodical manner" and did not put others at "substantial risk of bodily injury under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life," the Bismarck Tribune reported.

"The defendant did not fly the drone at the plane. He did not fly the drone in a reckless manner over either the people or at the plane," Schmalenberger said.

Turgeon testified that he was flying the drone to film the protest, and that he was aware of the police plane's position and made sure to stay out of its way. He said protesters raised their fists when they saw the drone, indicating that they wanted to be filmed, the Tribune reported. Turgeon documented the DAPL resistance often, posting videos and livestreams to various Facebook groups. Among the footage he captured was of police assaulting protesters with water cannons and tear gas.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Shannon Henke, who spoke with Turgeon at the scene and briefly attempted to confiscate the drone, testified in court that the aerial device could have fallen from the sky and injured someone. The incident helped prompt the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement a no-fly zone over the protest sites.

"It's a call for other judges here in Morton County to understand that there might be things happening that you're not seeing," Turgeon said Thursday. "In my case, they tried to take my drone. If they would have taken my drone, I would not have video evidence that showed I never flew toward that plane."

Protests against the controversial $3.8 billion pipeline led to 761 arrests between August and February, the Tribune noted. Many of those arrested face similarly egregious and trumped-up charges. DAPL has already seen multiple oil spills, even before becoming fully operational.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo