A documentarian arrested while filming an oil pipeline protest on Tuesday has been charged with three felony conspiracy charges ― and could face decades in prison if convicted.
Deia Schlosberg, the producer of the upcoming documentary “How to Let Go of the World and Love All Things Climate Can’t Change,” was detained while filming a protest against TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline in Walhalla, North Dakota. Activists at the event, associated with the group Climate Direct Action, shut down the pipeline, which carries oil from Canadian tar sands to the U.S, for about seven hours.
Two of the protestors, Michael Foster and Samuel Jessup, were also charged and Schlosberg’s equipment and footage from the event was confiscated. Schlosberg said shortly after being released on bond that she couldn’t comment on her arrest until she spoke to a lawyer.
She has been charged with three felonies: conspiracy to theft of property, conspiracy to theft of services and conspiracy to tampering with or damaging a public service. Together, the charges carry 45 years in maximum prison sentences.
Josh Fox, the director of the film and two others related to fossil fuels, including the Academy Award-nominated “Gasland,” said Schlosberg wasn’t participating in the protest herself but acting as filmmaker to document the event. Her arrest appears to reflect a “deliberate” targeting of reporters, he said.
“They have in my view violated the First Amendment,” Fox said, referring to the state’s Pembina County Sheriff’s Department. “It’s fucking scary, it knocks the wind of your sails, it throws you for a loop. They threw the book at Deia for being a journalist.”
Ryan Bialas, state’s attorney for Pembina County, told The Huffington Post there was no such targeting and said the event at the pipeline was “not a protest” but “a criminal action.”
“People are free to come and protest as much as they want in my county, I just ask they don’t damage any property in doing so,” Bialas said in an email. He also noted his office has offered to return Schlosberg’s equipment and footage and he has “no interest” in keeping it.
The arrest is the latest in a series of high-profile criminal charges filed in North Dakota. Police arrested actress Shailene Woodley and 27 others this week for trespassing while protesting the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.
And authorities issued an arrest warrant for criminal trespassing for Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! last month, who filmed a thousands-strong Native American-led protest in September, which was met with guards wielding pepper spray and attack dogs.
Goodman announced this week she will surrender to authorities on Monday “to fight this charge ... a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
Fox said the actions in North Dakota were “mind boggling” and he hasn’t seen “any other state behave this way.”
“Normally you get a warning,” he said, referencing other direct-action protests. “In North Dakota, you don’t. If you were trespassing, you leave and they arrest you anyway.”
He has been circulating a letter calling for the charges against Schlosberg to be dropped. Signatories include actress Daryl Hannah, musician Neil Young, activist Bill McKibben and actor Mark Ruffalo.
Bialas said he was unaware of the criminal action against both Woodley and Goodman and that his office does “not “target activists, journalists or media.”