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GOP challenger calls for Attorney General Keith Ellison to reject special prosecutor request in Line 3 case

Hundreds face charges in connection with the protests of the Line 3 pipeline replacement project last year, which energy company Enbridge constructed through northern Minnesota to transport oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.

FILE: Line 3 construction
Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline under construction near the intersection of Hohensee and West Moorhead roads in Carlton County in January 2021.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Republican-endorsed attorney general candidate Jim Schultz is calling on Democratic incumbent Keith Ellison to reject activist requests to review criminal cases tied to oil pipeline protests as a special prosecutor.

Hundreds face charges in connection with the protests of the Line 3 pipeline replacement project last year, which energy company Enbridge constructed through northern Minnesota to transport oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. Schultz said environmental activists want Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to appoint Ellison "clearly in hopes of increasing their chances of having their criminal charges reduced or dropped."

Jim Schultz.jpg
Jim Schultz

"With the significance and severity of what has happened, Minnesotans deserve to know if Keith Ellison will stand with law enforcement to uphold the rule of law and hold individuals accountable," the GOP candidate said in a statement Tuesday, July 26.

Schultz and Republican primary challenger Doug Wardlow have both styled themselves as “law and order” candidates in their bids to challenge Ellison in the November election.

Asked if Walz would appoint Ellison as special prosecutor, the governor's office said cases such as the protesters' are typically handled at the local level. "We don’t expect these cases will be any different," a spokesperson said.

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Ellison’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Preferred Line 3 pipeline route
Source: Enbridge

Environmental groups opposed the Line 3 pipeline replacement over concerns about oil spills polluting the headwaters of the Mississippi River and the violation of treaties with the state’s northern tribal nations. When construction was underway, protesters attempted to stop work by chaining themselves to construction equipment and blocking the construction route in northern Minnesota counties, leading to hundreds of arrests.

White Earth-based environmental justice group Honor the Earth and the broader Drop the Charges Coalition are asking state leaders to do everything in their power to drop charges against protesters, and for Walz to appoint Ellison special prosecutor in the “most egregious cases,” where activists say protesters faced exaggerated felony charges unrelated to what occurred or received “inconsistent” plea deals.

Keith Ellison.jpg
Keith Ellison answers questions from the press after he kicks off a grass-roots door-knocking event at North Commons Park in Minneapolis, Friday, Aug. 17. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press

“We cannot stand idly by as folks from all walks of life face criminal charges for defending drinking water for millions, standing up for treaty rights, and calling for a livable planet,” the coalition said in its petition to Walz, which has gained nearly 100,000 signatures.

The Drop The Charges Coalition has highlighted 14 different cases that it considers the most egregious. Protesters in Aitkin County face charges including felony aiding attempted suicide for protesters who crawled into a section of empty pipe and refused to exit. In a Wadena County case, protesters face felony theft charges for chaining themselves to equipment. Prosecutors could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

An Aitkin County judge earlier in July acquitted Shanai Matteson, the defendant in an Aitkin County conspiracy case, where prosecutors said she aided and abetted trespassing by encouraging people to attend protests in online posts, Forum News Service reported .

Environmental activist and former vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke is scheduled for trial for protest-related charges in Wadena County on Aug. 12.

This story has been updated to include comment from Gov. Walz and correct the location of Honor the Earth and the primary group sponsoring the petition.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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