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Authorities file just one charge for racial attack on Indian kids

The American Horse School is raising money with this anti-racism t-shirt. Photo from AHS

Authorities in Rapid City, South Dakota, filed just one charge in connection with a racial attack on 57 Indian children from a school on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Trace O'Connell, 41, was charged with one count of disorderly conduct for an incident in which the children were subjected to racial slurs and had beer poured on them at a hockey game last month. A conviction would carry just a 30-day jail sentence and a $500 fine.

"After an extensive investigation by the Rapid City Police Department, a thorough review of the case by my office as well as the Pennington County State's Attorney's Office, the facts supported bringing this charge," City Attorney Joel Landeen said in a press release.

The announcement brought a swift rebuke from Indian Country. The incident was being closely watched because the victims were children and because the police department acknowledged it was moving slowly on the controversial case.

"Today Rapid City court system just showed there true hearts, that they will never believe in the kids," Justin Poor Bear, a parent who attended the January 24 Rapid City Rush game at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, where the kids were attacked.

"Was there a crime that happened there? Yes," Poor Bear continued. "Was there racial word towards are kids? Wes, they spilled beer on your kids, not in celebration but as hate."

Poor Bear added that one man called the students "prairie n------."

Adding fuel to the fire, the Rapid City Police Department issued a statement on Wednesday that claimed Police Chief Karl Jegeris and other city officials felt unsafe at a "chaotic" meeting with parents and administrators from the school. That account was disputed by Poor Bear and by Jodi Richards, the middle school principal at American Horse.

"That's a lie -- they stood out in the commons area for 20 minutes" after the meeting, Poor Bear said on Facebook.

"People were asking a few questions," Richards told the Associated Press. "It did not get heated."

The school wants federal authorities to investigate the incident as a potential hate crime.

After the incident, Jegeris said he was considering assault, hate crime and child abuse charges. He also said only one suspect had been identified as of late January, when he warned that the investigation could take "weeks."

An affidavit from a Rapid City detective indicated that the one and only suspect had always been Trace O'Connell.

Authorities knew the name of the company that rents the VIP suite where the instigators were located -- Eagle Sales, a beer distributor that has been the target of complaints since the incident.

Although the company's president said he wasn't at the game in question, he acknowledged that his clients were using the suite. He also said one of his employees attended the game.

O'Connell is not an employee of Eagle Sales. A wedding notice from 2005 described him as an employee of O'Connell Construction.

Eagle Sales hosts meet and greet events with Rapid City Rush players at local bars, according to its Facebook page. The team has apologized to the students and their families for their treatment at the game.

Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney and founder of Last Real Indians, is organizing an All Relations Community March Against Racism on February 26 to call attention to the mistreatment of Indian people in South Dakota.

Additional Coverage:
Man accused of spilling beer, using racial slurs at game (AP 2/18)
City opts for disorderly charge in civic center incident (KOTA 2/18)
Disorderly Conduct Charged In Rapid City Hockey Game Incident (KELO 2/18)
Native Americans Wanted More Than Disorderly Conduct Charge (KELO 2/18)
Disorderly Conduct Charge Angers Some Native Parents (South Dakota Public Radio 2/18)
Philip Man Charged With Disorderly Conduct After Alledged Incident Of Dousing American Horse School Children With Beer (KCSR 2/18)
One man is charged after incident involving students at Rush hockey game (KEVN 2/19)
Man charged in racial incident in Rapid City (The Sioux Falls Argus Leader 2/19)

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