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DAPL protester who scaled truss over Vikings game pleads guilty, another opts for trial

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Two protesters hang from the rafters with a banner against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings Jan. 1, 2017 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Bruce Kluckhohn / USA TODAY Sports2 / 3
Sen Holiday, left, and Karl Zimmerman. Courtesy of Hennepin County sheriff3 / 3

MINNEAPOLIS—A protester who hung a banner at U.S. Bank Stadium during a 2017 Vikings game demanding that the sponsor divest itself from the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline pleaded guilty to public nuisance and was sentenced to one year of probation, according to Hennepin County court records.

Another protester who also scaled a protective barrier and climbed a truss to unfurl the banner above a section of lower-deck seats full of fans rejected a plea bargain offered by the Minneapolis City Attorney and is scheduled to go on trial in August.

Karl Zimmerman was convicted on one misdemeanor count of public nuisance and endangering public safety in connection with the stunt he and Sen Holiday performed Jan. 1, 2017, during Minnesota's game against the Chicago Bears.

Hennepin County Judge Michael Burns also sentenced Zimmerman to 30 hours of community service to be completed by Dec. 1 and fined him $78.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal, in exchange for the guilty plea, dismissed gross-misdemeanor burglary and trespassing charges against Zimmerman.

Holiday rejected a similar settlement agreement and has demanded a jury trial.

"As a city we support the full and free exercise of rights under the First Amendment," Segal said in a statement. "This office has made numerous attempts to resolve these two cases on fair and reasonable terms. While I made the decision to dismiss the gross-misdemeanor charge, public safety was put at risk in this situation, and protecting the safety of all is also of paramount importance."

Zimmerman, 34, and Holiday, 28, wanted to use the charges to amplify their opposition to the North Dakota energy project by calling witnesses to testify about the dangers of climate change and how civil disobedience can affect environmental policy, according to court records.

The protesters essentially wanted to put the Dakota Access Pipeline on trial. The pipeline started interstate crude oil delivery in May 2017 when President Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite completion of the project after environmental protesters had shut down construction for several months.

However, Burns blocked Zimmerman and Holiday's witnesses from testifying and turning their criminal case into a political protest.

"Defendants could not have reasonably anticipated that their protest would avert the harms of climate change," Burns ruled May 14. "Even if they could, defendants had numerous legal alternatives to breaking the law. Evidence about climate change and civil disobedience is not relevant to support a defense."

Zimmerman and Holiday could not be reached for comment. Their lawyer, Tim Phillips, did not return messages seeking comment.

Prosecutors say Zimmerman and Holiday broke the law by staging a protest in a restricted area of the stadium while endangering the safety of several hundred fans who were forced to evacuate their seats during Minnesota's 38-10 victory over the Bears.

"The two individuals endangered themselves and those below them when they climbed the stadium rafters and suspended themselves, their climbing equipment and sandbags over a crowd of people," Segal said.

Police say Zimmerman and Holiday refused commands to come down from a catwalk after they had rappelled about 20 feet down to unfurl a 40-foot vertical banner, which read "USbankDIVEST #NODAPL" during the New Year's Day game.

Witnesses told police the pair hopped a locked 3-foot-high glass wall separating the truss from a pedestrian walkway and scaled a ladder to a catwalk above Section 125 behind the south end zone.

Zimmerman and Holiday dangled next to the vertical banner from the start of the second quarter until the end of the game. Zimmerman even answered his cellphone to conduct a brief interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

U.S. Bank Stadium manager SMG said the protesters used tickets to enter the game and smuggled nylon rope, carabiners and the banner through security and metal detectors. Surveillance photos showed Holiday and Zimmerman entering the mobile express lane at the Legacy Gate and later walking through the north main concourse about an hour before they scaled the third-level truss.

New column screen walls were constructed at the ridge truss where Zimmerman and Holiday scaled to hang their banner.

No one was injured during the protest, and the Vikings reimbursed displaced fans. When the game ended, the two protesters climbed down and were arrested without incident. They were jailed overnight and released while Minneapolis police investigated.

Zimmerman and Holiday held a news conference shortly after their release from jail to repeat their demands that U.S. Bank divest its financing deals with builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile system that runs underground from western North Dakota to southern Illinois.

Several Native American tribes opposed construction, arguing the oil being delivered threatens sacred burial grounds and water supplies on tribal lands in North Dakota and Iowa.

Zimmerman and Holiday have refused to answer questions about how they planned the stunt in front of 66,808 football fans, their climbing expertise, tactics or safety risks to them and spectators.

This is not the first time Holiday was arrested for scaling a public structure to hang a protest banner.

In October 2013, she was convicted in Hennepin County of petty misdemeanors and fined $378, according to court records. Minneapolis police said she climbed the Washington Avenue Bridge and rappelled 80 to 100 feet below the street surface to unfurl a large yellow sign, which was not described in the criminal complaint.

After initially ignoring an officer's commands to come down, Holiday eventually climbed back onto the bridge and surrendered, according to the complaint.

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