Franken wants 'excessive and unnecessary' spraying of pipeline protesters investigated

"We're just not going to let people, protesters in large groups, come in and threaten officers," the sheriff said.

Reports of Standing Rock protesters being blasted with water in freezing temperatures Sunday night quickly led to criticism from demonstrators and others – including one of Minnesota's most prominent lawmakers.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said they don't have "water cannons," the term many people had used in reference to the spraying.

"This is just a fire hose," he said Monday at a news conference (here's video of it), noting the fire trucks were on the scene because of blazes that had been started.

The clashes began around 6 p.m. at Backwater Bridge about a mile south of where the pipeline is intended to go, and Kirchmeier said the 400 or so protesters were "acting very aggressively." Demonstrators were throwing rocks, bottles, and other debris at officers. There was also an explosion (source unknown), and more fires that popped up over the hours.

So they brought fire trucks in to put those out. And then field commanders on the scene used the hoses as a "tool" to help "quell" the situation, Kirchmeier said.

"As a result of that, some of the water was used to repel some of the protest activities that were occurring," he continued. "It was used at a time to when they were aggressive toward the officers, and when that was no longer occurring, the water wasn't used anymore. It was sprayed more as a mist and we didn't want to get it directly on them, but we wanted to use it as a measure to help keep everybody safe in this."

Video of the hoses being used

Here's some video of Sunday night, first from a photographer:

Posted by Josué Rivas Fotographer on Sunday, November 20, 2016

And also via Unicorn Riot:

Morton County Sheriff spokesman Rob Keller told NBC that no water cannons were used Sunday night and water was only deployed to put out fires set by #NoDAPL water protectors.

Posted by Unicorn Riot on Monday, November 21, 2016

Temperatures that night from 6 p.m. through midnight were in the low to mid 20s, so below freezing.

One arrest was made Sunday night. One officer was hit in the head with a rock and injured.

The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council said they addressed about 300 injuries from Sunday night, including internal bleeding and eye injuries caused by rubber bullets.

Hoses aren't "normally" used as a tool, but in this case it was the best option at the time, Kirchmeier said, noting officers did take into account the temperature.

"We're just not going to let people, protesters in large groups, come in and threaten officers," he said. "That's not happening."

'Excessive and unnecessary,' and 'extremely dangerous'

One of the people who has serious concerns about the use of water against protesters is Sen. Al Franken.

He sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch with the Department of Justice, asking her to investigate the use of force by law enforcement, and also to do something to stop things form escalating.

"The reported use of water cannons for crowd control in sub-freezing temperatures is excessive and unnecessary, and I urge you to take action to protect the First Amendment rights of protestors, and the physical safety of all involved parties," Franken wrote. "Video of the incident appears to show that the water cannons were not simply being used for fire control, or even crowd control, but were often directed at small crowds or even individual protesters. Combined with the onset of wintry weather, water cannons are extremely dangerous and potentially lethal weapons, and I urge you to investigate their use on protesters."

Franken's full letter can be read here.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is calling for the president to come out against law enforcement's tactics, saying peaceful protesters were hit with unlawful tactics even though the pipeline company doesn't yet have permission to build under Lake Oahe (which is still the case).

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