The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) yesterday said it would evaluate its “policies and procedures” as part of an investigation into the use of one of its helicopters at an oil pipeline protest in Minnesota on Monday. Video posted to Twitter clearly showed the helicopter, a CBP AStar, maneuvering to “dust” protestors at altitudes witnesses said were as low as 20 feet agl.
The Northern Lights Task Force, a conglomeration of local and county law enforcement agencies tasked with providing security for construction of the Enbridge #3 pipeline in the area, said they had requested the helicopter to broadcast messages to the protestors encouraging them to disperse. “A helicopter from U.S. Customs and Border Protection was brought in today to issue a dispersal order to a large group of people in the area of Two Inlets Pump Station by Park Rapids," the task force said in a statement.
"The idea was to provide the order in a manner that everyone would be able to hear. Unforeseen to local law enforcement and due to the extremely dry conditions, dust kicked up in the area. As soon as helicopter staff saw what was happening, they immediately left the area to ensure no further issues would be caused. This was not an intentional act to cause discomfort or intended as a dispersal mechanism.”
However, witnesses said the helicopter made multiple passes, with its rotor wash kicking up substantial dust and debris each time, and that any messages broadcast from the helicopter were inaudible. The task force said Monday’s protest resulted in the issue of 68 citations and another 179 persons taken into custody.