Red Fawn Fallis, a member of Denver's indigenous community, has been in jail in North Dakota ever since she was arrested at Standing Rock on October 27, 2016; she is the most seriously charged water protector, having been accused of possessing and discharging a firearm as she was being restrained by police near construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Her arrest has been controversial — in part because of an ambiguous video of the shooting — and has sparked a nationwide #FreeRedFawn movement, which is particularly strong here in Denver, her home. Since October, numerous benefits have been held in Colorado to raise money for her defense.
Fallis's jury trial was originally slated to begin on July 17, but it has now been postponed to a new date: December 5.
On June 20, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland agreed to conditionally release Fallis from the jail where she's been held in Rugby, North Dakota, to a halfway house in Fargo.
Bruce Ellison, Fallis's lawyer, says that she will move into the halfway house as she awaits trial. "She's just waiting for a bed space to become available,” says Ellison. “Hopefully it will be soon."
Another lawyer who has volunteered her time to help Fallis, Angela Bibens, explains that Judge Hovland granted the pre-trial release, in part because Fallis proved that she wasn't a flight risk when she took a three-day furlough in early May. The furlough was granted so that she could attend a memorial service for her mother, Troy Lynn Yellow Wood, in Denver. Yellow Wood passed away on June 11, 2016.
"It was really rare that they allowed [Fallis] that release," says Bibens, who is based in Colorado. “And there was some back and forth between [us] and the Assistant U.S. Attorney, because they said, 'Wait a minute, [her mother] passed away almost a year ago.'”
Angela Bibens speaking about Fallis at a fundraiser at the Mercury Cafe in April.
Bibens says that she and Ellison had to explain cultural differences to the court in order for it to understand why the memorial, which took place nearly a year after Yellow Wood's funeral, was important for Fallis to attend.
“In the Lakota/Dakota culture, the memorial is just as significant as the funeral,” says Bibens. “We observe a year of mourning called 'keeping of the spirit.' And having the memorial releases the spirit of the loved one to complete their journey to the other side, and it also releases the family from that period of mourning."
Once the furlough was granted, temporarily releasing Fallis into Bibens's custody between May 5 and May 8, Bibens says that Fallis and her family kept news of the furlough from spreading too far or distracting from the memorial service.
"We intentionally kept it low-key,” says Bibens. “And in my opinion, the furlough, which was cited in Judge Hovland's order as one of the reasons for her release to the halfway house, did exactly that. The Assistant U.S. Attorney and the judge could see that that time out of custody was impeccable. She did everything by the books and came back an hour early…even though she was literally here in Denver for 24 hours because most of the furlough was spent on the road. "
During Fallis's short time out of jail, she did produce the following video, which she posted to Facebook. She also included links to a crowdsourcing campaign for her legal defense:
Ellison says that there's still a lot of preparation before the trial in December.
"There's no question that Red Fawn was set up that day, and we have received many things in discovery that will be supportive of the overall defense we'll have,” he says, adding that he "can't get into specifics at this time."
Beyond making additional requests for discovery, Ellison says that he's motioning to change the location of the trial away from Bismarck, where he says the population is predispositioned to think negatively of water protectors.
"There was a survey done early this year that showed strong negative feelings toward all of the water protectors, and Red Fawn in particular," he says. “That's because there was an intense, pervasive and inflammatory media campaign — because the media was manipulated [by DAPL corporations] to a large extent — in the area that made people afraid, gave people misinformation, and tried to create a climate of fear and terror in the general community.”
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Ellison is hopeful that the change-of-venue request will be granted.
In the meantime, Bibens says that Fallis is in good spirits.
"She's strong. She inspires me. And I really feel privileged and honored that I got to spend that time with her," she says.