Native Sun News: Trial set for racial attack on Lakota students

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

The 57 students from the American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have seen support from across the globe. Collage by Kelsey Mackin

Witnesses testify at O’Connell Motions Hearing
Admits that most of the people in Eagle Sales section were drinking
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– The trial of Trace O’Connell is set to begin at 1 p.m. on July 22 at the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City. This is the man charged with Disorderly Conduct for a city ordinance violation for an alleged Jan. 24 occurrence at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center involving Budlight, racial taunting, and children splashed below with beer.

During the Motions Hearing on Monday, July 6, nine family members and friends of Trace O’Connell exchanged subtle glances with the two American Horse School (AHS) parents present as they sat in Courtroom C4 in the Pennington County Courthouse.

The Motions granted included disclosure of criminal histories, notice of hearsay testimony, and witnesses will be allowed to sit in on the trial after testifying. Judge Eric Strawn ordered the final list of witnesses to be submitted on Friday, July 17. All motions must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, July 20.

Testimony of two witnesses, Matthew Reedy and Julia Cunningham, were heard at this pre-trial hearing on Monday, as they will be deposed at the time of the trial.

During his testimony, Matthew Reedy, a Black Hills State University Graduate and family man working as a loan officer, testified about receiving tickets provided by Don Carley - owner of the Steakhouse Restaurant in Phillip. Carley is a customer of Eagle Sales whose suite the 14-15 friends from Phillip were in that evening.

The incident occurred at the Rapid City Rush hockey game pictured here on January 24, 2015. Photo from Facebook

Reedy testified the 14-15 friends traveled to Rapid City from Phillip in “several vehicles” to the Holiday Inn Rushmore Plaza. During the 90-minute drive, admitted to drinking “two drinks” on the trip and that others in the car were as well. He could not confirm if Trace O’Connell was drinking as he was in another vehicle.

Upon arriving in Rapid City the guests of Eagle Sales checked into their hotel rooms and went to the Texas Road House for a meal and Reedy admitted he had “two drinks myself” and confirmed others were drinking alcohol with their meal as well.

After finishing their meal and drinks at the Texas Road House, the caravan headed to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center for the game. They arrived 30-45 minutes prior to game time. When arriving, the partying continued as free beer (Budweiser products) was provided for the luxury suite guests.

Reedy sat at the bar area while others sat below in the seats of the suite. Reedy testified that Trace O’Connell “stood at the steps during the game.” These steps would have been inside the suite space and lead down to the front of the box seats directly above the general seating available below.

When asked if Trace O’Connell had been drinking this same time period, Reedy replied, “Absolutely.”

An offending headline in the January 31, 2015, issue of The Rapid City Journal. Photo from Chase Iron Eyes / Last Real Indians / Facebook

As game time neared, the American Horse students and chaperones arrived and sat directly beneath the Eagle Sales suite. When asked if there was interaction with the students, Reedy said, “Yes… Brett Miller was high-fiving them.”

Reedy testified the interaction was positive and that Brett Miller was the principal participant in the interaction with the students at this time, according to his vantage point and perception. He spoke on how well behaved the AHS students were during this same time in his testimony.

Certain members within the group, at some point, began to throw aluminum beer bottle caps at one of their friends in the suite. According to Reedy, this friend is a subject of their horsing around and teasing. The friend was seated in a seat in the lower section of the suite.

Although not intentional, he did concede to the possibility of one of the aluminum bottle caps being thrown outside of the suite in to the crowd below.

It was during the third period when the situation became out of control. During the tying goal for the Rush or just before the tying goal, when the crowd, including the suite members, stood and cheered with excitement. Reedy testified that people were screaming, high-fiving, and cheering each other with drinks.

It was at this time, Reedy stated he witnessed beer “flying up in the air.” Reedy testified he saw Trace O’Connell waving his hands and jumping up and down with a Budlight can in his hand. During this cheering and celebratory movement, according to Reedy, he witnessed O’Connell with raised arm, using a roping motion (roping as in cowboy roping terms) to celebrate.

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

When asked if beer was being spilled by defense attorney, Michael Butler, Reedy replied, “I would say plenty of beer was getting spilled,” referring to everyone, including the crowd outside of the suite, celebrating the goals.

On the stand, Reedy testified someone “hollered something about spilling beer on our kids,” but claims to not have heard profanity being used.

The interaction immediately after the beer spilling changed. “I heard Trace say something. I didn’t hear profanity.”

All the heated exchanges from the time the beer was spilled until the students began to leave during the third period, according to Reedy, happened “really quickly” and was probably “30 to 45 seconds.”

At this time, the chaperones, fearing for their children and frustrated at the lack of interference by Civic Center staff and security, made the students get up and leave for the doors. Reedy says the students, were “looking around confused” while leaving.

During cross-examination by city attorney Joel Landeen, Reedy admitted that “it was talked about” when some AHS students did not stand during the National Anthem and did not dispute beer being spilled outside of the suite box. After several hours of drinking that day, he admitted to being over the legal limit for drinking.

The friends from Phillip stayed in the Holiday Inn that night, while the kids were reported to have ridden home on the bus to the reservation, mostly in silence.

The trial will take place at the Performing Arts Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, rather than the local courthouse, in light of public interest in the case. Photo from PAC

It was a text message from a friend the following Monday morning which notified Matthew Reedy of the impact of their night of partying at the Rush Hockey Game. Reedy and O’Connell attempted to call the school to apologize, leaving a message once and getting hung up on the second time, according to Reedy.

Following Reedy’s testimony, Julia Cunningham took the stand for the defense. New York State and AHS teacher was chaperoning to the game that night. She herself is an admitted former hockey player and fan.

Cunningham was chaperoning eight AHS students (three girls, five boys) and was seated three rows in front of the Eagle Sales suite, according to her testimony. During the beginning of the game, she noticed students interacting with the men in the suite and “told the kids to sit down.”

When asked if the interaction was friendly by Butler, “It didn’t seem unfriendly.”

Cunningham testified to hearing someone from the Eagles Sales suite say to the AHS students, “You’re from the reservation. You should be cheering louder than this!” This was the only comment she testified to hearing referring to a reservation or Native Americans.

Even seated three rows in front of the box suite, Cunningham “had felt drops of liquid on my head.”

During her testimony, Cunningham stated the boy seated to her left also had a liquid splash on him. She testified he patted the back of his head and smelled his hand, “Oh, that’s beer.”

This was only testimony from two defense witnesses and the city’s witnesses have yet to testify.

Since this alleged crime was committed against Native children and the case has seen a lot of emotional reaction from families and tribal members, security will be at the Performing Arts Center where the trial will be held on July 22.

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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