BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Dakota Access pipeline protester has been cleared of charges after being accused of endangering a police plane with his drone last September in North Dakota.
Aaron Turgeon, 32, of Rapid City, was found not guilty of reckless endangerment and physical obstruction of a government function after a one-day bench trial Thursday.
Prosecutors argued Turgeon endangered a pilot and the group protesting at a construction site in Morton County when he flew his drone on Sept. 6.
Investigators also alleged Turgeon didn’t cooperate with authorities.
Judge Allan Schmalenberger, who presided over the trial, ruled that Turgeon operated his drone in a “methodical manner,” not in a manner that endangered anyone. Turgeon said he was filming the protest.
“The defendant did not fly the drone at the plane. He did not fly the drone in a reckless manner over either the people or at the plane,” the judge said.
Turgeon said he was grateful for Schmalenberger’s fairness and honesty.
“It’s a call for other judges here in Morton County to understand that there might be things happening that you’re not seeing,” Turgeon said. “In my case, they tried to take my drone. If they would have taken my drone, I would not have video evidence that showed I never flew toward that plane.”
The incident helped prompt the Federal Aviation Administration to impose a no-fly zone over the protest area.
Protests in southern North Dakota against the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline led to hundreds of arrests between August and February.