Native Sun News: South Dakota man challenges abuse law

The following story was written and reported by Evelyn Red Lodge. All content © Native Sun News.

Robert Brancato and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota).

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA -- Local businessman Robert Brancato announced Thursday he will lead the action to rescind and repeal the South Dakota statute of limitations (SOL) for childhood sexual abuse.

The SOL known in legislature as 2010 HB 1104 garnered criticism across the nation. Many reports question whether HB 1104 is unconstitutional and question the motives of the person who introduced it.

HB 1104 effectively quashed lawsuits brought by Native Americans against the Catholic Church for sex abuse that is alleged to have frequently occurred in the church-run boarding schools of the past. Those alleged victims are now well beyond the age of 40.

Roger Rodriguez was recently barred from suing two individuals and the congregation of priests who ran St. Joseph’s Indian School while he was a student there in the 1970s – even though he claimed he was not aware the sexual abuse he alleged was the root of his life-long problems until he talked to a psychologist decades later.

Ironically, the attorney for St. Joseph’s was the one who gained sponsorship to introduce HB 1104. The Argus Leader reported in March of last year that “Smith said the lawyers trying to recruit class-action members are reaping what they sow when it comes to the bill.”

Attorney Greg Yates represents several Indian litigants against the Catholic Church in the sex abuse cases. Yates, a graduate of the University of South Dakota Law School assumed the case only after it appeared to have been mishandled by other attorneys.

Inflamed by the passing of HB 1104, one of the United States’ leading constitutional law scholars, specializing in church/state issues published a column on Marci A. Hamilton wrote, “The most disreputable 2010 child-sex-abuse SOL legislative ‘reform’ law in the United States was enacted by the South Dakota legislature. For years, Catholic clergy inflicted horrendous abuse against Native American children in St. Joseph Indian School. A defense attorney [Steven R. Smith] for the school crafted SOL “reform” that actually retracted options the victims otherwise would have had, under prior law."

Hamilton continues, "Specifically, the new law prohibits any victim over the age of 40 from suing anyone other than the direct perpetrator. Thus, even if an institution knew an employee was abusing children and did nothing about it, the institution would still be immune under the new law. The new law has shut down many meritorious cases involving Native American victims, and it represents the first instance in which Catholic lobbyists have obtained SOL reform that targets a particular ethnic group.”

She responded to a Native Sun News question about HB1104 with, “My view is that the reduction of the SOL targeting the Native American victims was unconstitutional discrimination based on race. The repeal should save the state millions in damages and liability for invidious discrimination against Native Americans. The fact it was done to protect the Catholic bishops makes it even more constitutionally suspect. No state is doing the Church any favors by insulating the bishops from their responsibility for heinous, reckless child sex abuse by their employees and clergy.”

Last Thursday, Brancato told Native Sun News he has sponsorship from Representative Steve Hickey and bipartisan support. He said, “What I have found is that we have a huge influx of sex offenders moving to this state. If you take a look at the South Dakota Sex Offender Registry, you can see where the offenses occurred and when they moved here. I’m not saying there is a direct correlation, but I deal with facts and evidence [as a fraud investigator], and when you see the two events occurring, it’s quite concerning.”

“As a survivor [of sexual abuse,] my abuse happened in a Catholic Church in Chicago; that’s why I have been working with Representative Hickey (Steve Hickey) to rescind and repeal HB 1104. When it was passed there was no testimony or hearings. Some of the Reps had only five-to-ten minutes to review it,” he said.

Native Sun News got this response from Hickey. He said, “I am sponsoring a bill that rescinds the arbitrary statute of limitations on sex abuse. I have used the words scandalous and shameful with regard to the source of the 2010 bill. Who are we kidding? An attorney for the Catholic Church litigating cases about child sex abuse in our state reinforces this church cover-up of abuse we have seen here in South Dakota. It’s documented extensively, elsewhere. It’s global. The source of this bill is really smelly to me. I do have concern that the limits [of the bill] that affect Native Americans were aimed at Native cases.”

“If the Department of Justice investigated that, we might be liable for an unconstitutional and racist bill. In my view, the legislature had no awareness of the constitutional implications or the source. The source is the issue," Hickey said. "This bill came from the Catholic Church’s attorney who is representing the church in ongoing lawsuits. In May, the bill was used to throw out cases. Are we living in a cave here? This is really stinky in my opinion.”

“It [HB 1104] came in quietly on a consent calendar. That means the Senate didn’t hear its merits. They weren’t briefed on who was bringing the bill. Coming in on the consent calendar means the Committee unanimously approved it. The Senate then just votes yes or no. There is no debate. No hearing. I just think the state legislature needs to revisit this. I don’t think there was any ill intent. I just think the process was fast and brief,” he said.

“Again my issue is who brought the bill. I am still checking to see if that was an [attorney] ethics violation. If it’s not it is amazing to me. The people this directly affected did not know about it until the day it was voted on. What are they supposed to do? Monitor all state legislation? There will be a hearing this time around. That’s all I can promise," Hickey said.

"We are creating a little pocket of refuge for the perpetrators," he added. "What I have heard from other legislators is that repressed memories aren’t reliable. It is not our business to determine the merit of individual cases. This is for is for counselors and the courts. It is not for the legislature to decide.”

“The people who are opposing us are saying, ‘You have three years to blow the whistle.’ I say that does not take into consideration as to how this crime plays out. The perpetrator continues to perpetrate. It often takes people years to figure out they can blow the whistle. Or, there is a way for justice. It’s a worthy fight. These people have been violated in the most horrific ways,” Hickey concluded.

Next, Native Sun News called Chamberlain attorney Steven R. Smith. He was informed that opponents of HB 1104 were questioning his ethics in crafting the bill and questioning the constitutionality of the bill.

He responded, “Representative Hickey, should perhaps, before he opens up his mouth, find out what the facts truly are. If he had done a bit of research, he would have found I have been very up-front with both judiciary committees in the house and the senate respecting my representing St. Joseph’s Indian School. Unethical? His accusations are outrageous, unwarranted, and should be in their own right actionable. If he’s out there slandering me, don’t you think I should be able to sue him? Apparently, he doesn’t know the facts.”

“If he wants to revisit it [HB 1104] that is anybody’s choice to go in front of their legislative body to seek modification of any bill. I would never say anything negative to anyone who wants to utilize that ability just as anyone from this great state should be able to do. You better, before you start speaking ill of your neighbors. You better know what the facts are and his insinuations are outrageous,” Smith said.

While HB 1104 does seem to be a Native American issue, Brancato stressed, “Childhood sexual abuse crosses all barriers. It’s not just a Native issue. It’s not just within the Catholic Church or law enforcement as we have seen recently. HB 1104 is a haven for sexual predators.”

Brancato also explained, “There will be full disclosure and testimony this time.”

Senator Jim Bradford of District 27, which includes most of the Pine Ridge Reservation, voted for HB1104 and did not respond to NSN’s request for comment by press time.

Brancato invites anyone of any race or ethnicity to testify before the legislature he believes will happen in January. He also invites anyone who wishes to help with his effort or anyone who is interested in his effort to contact him at his office. He can be reached at Robert Dean & Associates 3213 West Main Street and the telephone number is 605/718-2783. His email address is

(Contact Evelyn Red Lodge at

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