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Appeals court reverses decision involving sheriff’s records

December 27, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A human rights law firm Thursday won access to documents reflecting a Louisiana sheriff’s office participation in the response to 2016 protests against a North Dakota crude oil pipeline.

The state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed an earlier decision by the 29th Judicial District Court of St. Charles Parish that ruled against the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights’ public records request regarding St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne’s trip and that of any employees who traveled to North Dakota in connection with the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The center’s attorney, Pamela Spees, said in a telephone interview that she was glad the appellate court agreed with them that the receipts should be turned over. The court also ordered the sheriff to search for video footage taken in North Dakota and turn it over as well.

The petition was filed after the center received what it described as “minimal records” involving the trips from an earlier public records request.

“It was a straightforward records request of documents that were not controversial,” Spees said Thursday. “It’s regrettable that we had to go to the court of appeal.”

It’s unknown if Champagne will file an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court. A spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Spees said once the information is turned over, her office will review it and make it available on the center’s website “for people to have broader access.”

“We’ll review it and see what those receipts tell us about those trips,” she said.

Both the Dakota Access Pipeline and the proposed 162-mile (261-kilometer) Bayou Bridge Pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James Parish are projects of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

Champagne, then president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, traveled to North Dakota in 2016 to observe the law enforcement response to protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, praising law enforcement afterward and describing the protesters as violent and militant, according to the lawsuit.

It said records produced so far show that, under a law designed for natural disaster assistance, Champagne sent two deputies to North Dakota early this year to help produce a pro-law-enforcement video series. The sheriff’s office asked for nearly $36,000 in reimbursement under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

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This story has been corrected to show state appeals court decision, not federal.

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