BISMARCK, N.D. – A Denver woman accused of shooting at law officers while being arrested for protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota pleaded guilty Monday to two federal charges in a deal with prosecutors.
The agreement means Red Fawn Fallis won't stand trial, where she could have faced up to life in prison if convicted. Instead, prosecutors will recommend a sentence of no more than seven years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme declined comment outside the courtroom on why the government chose not to take the case to trial.
Fallis, 38, was accused of firing a handgun three times during her October 2016 arrest. No one was hurt. She pleaded guilty Monday to civil disorder and gun possession by a convicted felon. She has a 2003 conviction in Colorado for being an accessory to a felony crime. Court records show she was accused of driving a car for a man who shot and wounded another man.
Fallis cried while she entered her pleas. She did not discuss the protest shooting incident, only answering basic questions from U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland about her background and understanding of the proceedings.
Prosecutors at sentencing will drop a more serious count against Fallis — discharge of a firearm during a felony crime of violence. Sentencing wasn't immediately scheduled.
About two dozen supporters of Fallis packed the courtroom but didn't comment after the hearing. The courthouse was under heavy security. The number of federal law and security officers outside the courtroom was double the norm, and people had to obtain passes to enter the courtroom. The courthouse was the site of protests several times when the demonstrations against the pipeline were at their height between August 2016 and February 2017.
Fallis' arrest was among 761 that authorities made in southern North Dakota in that six-month span. At times thousands of pipeline opponents gathered in the region to protest the $3.8 billion project to move North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois. Fallis is the only protester accused of firing a gun.
The pipeline began operating last June. Opponents fear environmental harm, and four American Indian tribes in the Dakotas are still fighting it in court. The pipeline's Texas-based developer says it's safe.
Fallis will remain jailed until Hovland decides whether she can go to a halfway house in Fargo pending sentencing. She was moved there in October, but last week she was arrested for violating conditions of her pretrial release when she signed out of the facility to attend adult learning classes but never showed up.
"With the change-of-plea hearing coming up, I just needed some time to really think about things," she told Hovland Monday as she tearfully asked to go back to the halfway house. "It's hard to be up here (in North Dakota) with no family to talk to."
Prosecutors last year objected to Fallis being moved from jail to the halfway house, but Delorme on Monday told Hovland the government would take no position on her possible return. He said he had been informed that until last week she had been "a model resident."
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