I Have Been Told

A column by Anne M. Dunn

Child Abuse, Assault and Racism

The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Rapid City, SD, was the scene of the January 24th incident that involved 57 students being sprayed with beer and taunted. The incident occurred during a hockey game where the students from the American Horse School at Allen on the Pine Ridge Reservation attended as a reward for academic achievement.

The students whose ages ranged from 8 to 13 years old were told to “go back to the reservation”.

For the safety of the children, their chaperones decided to leave the game before its conclusion.

In an effort to seek justice for the children a meeting was held on January 28, in Rapid City with a group of parents of the students, school officials, Oglala Sioux Tribal officials, law enforcement, the general manager of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and Rapid City officials.

Some of the parents called on the US Attorney’s Office to bring hate crime charges against the perpetrators.

The meeting was held one day after the Rapid City Police Department opened a formal investigation into the incident. At that time the names of the perpetrators who assaulted the students had not been released.

Since then a Phillip, SD, man has been charged with Disorderly Conduct. If convicted, Trace O’Connell faces up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo said, “After a thorough review of the evidence gathered by the RCPD in an exhaustive investigation, determined that the elements for felony child abuse or malicious intimidation could not be established. We are bound by the evidence as it emerges in the investigation, not as it emerges in the press. Even matters that offend me and rightfully offend us as a community must endure the same rigorous evaluation, applying the facts against the law as handed down by the legislature to determine the appropriate level of criminal conduct.”

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