SHEVLIN, Minn. -- On a sweltering day in mid-June, Clearwater County Sheriff Darin Halverson arrived at the spot where Enbridgess Line 3 oil pipeline is expected to cross underneath the Mississippi River, not far from its headwaters.
Halverson told the water protectors that they needed to leave that day. Enbridge had given notice that the campers were trespassing, and asked the sheriff to evict them. But he gave them the day to pack up, and shook hands with tribal leaders.
"There were just a lot of thank yous on both sides, he said. They were thanking me for allowing them to exercise their treaty rights and respecting them. And I was thanking them as well, for holding true to their word."
That final day of the Mississippi River camp on June 14 was a key test of the strategy he has used throughout his law enforcement tenure to carefully balance the protection of public safety with the peaceful expression of free speech.
"I want to make sure people can exercise their First Amendment rights, as long as you're doing it peacefully and lawfully, Halverson said. I've told them I'll help you all day long, if you want to do that."
Halverson, 49, served for 18 years as the Bagley police chief before he was elected Clearwater County sheriff in 2015. He and other area county sheriffs meet on a monthly basis with White Earth tribal police to discuss common issues or concerns.
When resistance to the Line 3 pipeline began to heat up, he and Goodwin began communicating regularly. She kept him updated about their plans to hold peaceful marches and prayer vigils. As long as people weren't breaking the law, he gave them space to express their views.
"Both of us together, we decided that this is a good opportunity to show the rest of the world how things should be, she said. The sheriff shouldn't be treating us as criminals, because we weren't doing anything criminal."
Some opponents of Line 3, who had been camping at one of the places where the pipeline will cross the Mississippi River southwest of Bemidji, pack up on June 14. The Clearwater County sheriff notified them they were trespassing and needed to leave. Kirsti Marohn / MPR News
"I kept telling everybody that I felt that it was going to be handled peacefully, and that it was going to be resolved that way, he said. And it was, and we didn't have to bring anybody down there. So that was a good thing."
But unlike some other counties, Clearwater has not requested or received any financial reimbursement from a public safety escrow account Enbridge was required to establish, according to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
"We can show that things can be done differently, but there has to be work done on both sides, Halverson said. Its not just a law enforcement thing, but it's people who are protesting as well. If we can communicate and work through differences or whatever, hopefully more things can be handled peacefully."
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