Judge approves Jill Stein's plea deal for pipeline protest

By Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

A North Dakota judge on Wednesday accepted a plea agreement that spares former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein any jail time for protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline nearly a year ago.

In this Sept. 6, 2016, file photo, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein prepares to spray-paint "I approve this message" in red paint on the blade of a bulldozer at a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the area of Morton County, N.D. Stein has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors to resolve criminal charges filed against her in North Dakota nearly a year ago for protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline, court records show. (Alicia Ewen/KX News via AP, File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota judge on Wednesday accepted a plea agreement that spares former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein any jail time for protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline nearly a year ago.

Judge Gail Hagerty accepted a plea deal in which Stein pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief and prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge.

Stein will be on unsupervised probation for about six months and must pay $250 in fees. She had faced a maximum punishment of two months in jail and $3,000 in fines.

Stein and her attorney did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment. Morton County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Grosinger also did not respond to messages seeking comment on why prosecutors chose not to take the case to trial.

Stein was charged for spray-painting a bulldozer at a construction site last September. She told The Associated Press in March that it was "very problematic to have this hanging over my head" and that she wanted the case resolved. She also said that she was willing to go jail but that's "not my preference, obviously."

Stein's running mate, Ajamu Baraka, who faced similar charges, got the same deal Wednesday.

The $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners on June 1 began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois, though American Indian tribes who fear environmental harm are still fighting the project in court. Protests in North Dakota by tribes and environmental groups between last August and this past February resulted in 761 arrests.

Stein was at a pipeline construction site in southern North Dakota on Sept. 6, 2016, where authorities said equipment was vandalized. She issued a statement at the time admitting to spray-painting the words "I approve this message" on the blade of a bulldozer to protest that it "had been used to destroy sacred burial sites of the Standing Rock Sioux."

A state judge issued an arrest warrant for Stein the next day, but court proceedings were never scheduled. Grosinger has not responded to several requests for comment as to why.

Another high-profile pipeline opponent arrested in North Dakota, Hollywood actress Shailene Woodley, in March agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors that kept her out of jail. She also faced misdemeanor charges that carried the same potential punishment as Stein faced.

Stein said in March that she doesn't view the pipeline's completion as a defeat because Dakota Access opponents "connected the dots between the struggle for indigenous human rights and water rights and climate survival." She said she also plans to be active in the opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, though she wasn't sure in what way.

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