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Second woman who sabotaged the Dakota Access Pipeline is sentenced to six years in prison

It was a little more than five years ago when two women, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, confessed to having sabotaged the Dakota Access Pipeline and damaged construction equipment being used to complete it. Neither Reznicek nor Montoya were caught in the act but they decided to announce their own guilt to draw more attention to the effort to stop the pipeline.

That effort didn’t work as planned but it did open them both up to federal charges. As I pointed out here, 84 Members of Congress subsequently sent a letter to the DOJ asking if both Reznicek and Montoya qualified as domestic terrorists.

It took two years before the pair were finally charged and initially they agreed to a joint defense. They both pleaded guilty to one charge in exchange for the government dropping a number of other charges. But that all changed around the time Reznicek was sentenced in 2021. Montoya hired a new attorney and attempted to withdraw her guilty plea.

In the days before and after Reznicek’s June 2021 sentencing, however, Montoya endeavored to exit the joint defense agreement and change her plea to not guilty. For over a year, Montoya has tried to proceed with a trial. The decision appears to be, in part, motivated by the terrorism enhancement applied to Reznicek’s sentence. The women repeatedly described their actions as peaceful and nonviolent; nobody was harmed as a result of their actions, in part because they targeted sites at night, when they were empty…

Montoya’s sentencing was postponed for two months. However, five days before she was to be sentenced, Montoya abruptly dropped her legal team and secured representation from Silveman, a Texas-based lawyer who had represented other Dakota Access Pipeline protestors.

Prior to this representation, Montoya consistently appeared as someone who knowingly sacrificed her freedom, and who deliberately chose to take illegal actions in the hope of preventing water contamination by stopping oil from flowing through the pipeline.

Montoya’s new lawyer emphasized two claims. One, that Montoya was had been subjected to serious abuse as a child and as a result she was “unduly influenced by the Des Moines Catholic Workers” she was living with at the time of the sabotage. The other claim was that Montoya had been influenced to carry out the sabotage by undercover private security agents:

In a sworn statement she provided in support of these assertions, Montoya claims that “at least three people” manipulated her in this manner, “unlawfully pressuring me to engage in these illegal acts.” The first approached her in the fall of 2016, showing her pictures of pipeline valve sites that were sabotaged and claiming that sabotage of construction sites was a regular occurrence…

After Montoya reunited with Reznicek in Iowa, the women discussed these ideas. They ultimately drove to the individual’s apartment in Colorado, where Montoya says she observed “army training manuals on how to destroy infrastructure.” The individual and their roommate subsequently demonstrated how to use thermite and an oxy-acetylene welder, telling the women,”that’s what will burn through steel.”

Reznicek was sentenced to eight years last June. Today Montoya was sentenced to six years and $3 million in restitution. Her sentence, like Reznicek’s, included a terrorism enhancement.

She was asked about the terrorism enhancement on the way into court but didn’t respond. (2nd clip below)

Reznicek had earlier appealed the addition of the terrorism enhancement to her sentence but an appeals court upheld the sentence in June of this year:

The appeal focused on the decision by Iowa U.S. District Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger to apply a terrorism sentencing enhancement, applicable to crimes “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government” by intimidation, coercion, or retaliation. That enhancement increased Reznicek’s original recommended sentencing range 37 to 46 months, to 210 to 240 months — a maximum of 20 years — although the final sentence from Ebinger was less than half that.

Monday’s decision does not address Reznicek’s argument that, because she was opposing a private development and damaging private property, the terrorism enhancement was inapplicable. Instead, the appellate court notes that “any error was harmless” because Ebinger stated on the record that she would have imposed the same sentence with or without the terrorism enhancement.

Hopefully this will give other environmental activists pause when they consider crossing the line between protest/civil disobedience and sabotage.

Finally, here’s the video of Reznicek and Montoya announcing their guilt back in 2017. “Our conclusion is that the system is broken and that it is up to us as individuals to take peaceful action and remedy it. And this is what we did out of necessity,” Montoya said.

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