Rapid City mayor questions charge in beer-spilling incident

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender on the campaign trail. Photo from Facebook

The new leader of Rapid City, South Dakota, doesn't seem to be endearing himself to the city's sizable Indian population.

Mayor Steve Allender took office last month after a campaign that saw him deflect charges of encouraging a hostile work environment against an Indian police officer. He proclaimed a Year of Reconciliation and vowed to work with everyone

An incident in January in which 57 young members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe were subjected to racial taunts at a hockey game highlighted those tensions. One person went on trial this week in the case but Allender questions whether there should have been a charge at all.

"It seems political to me too," Allender told KOTA of the single count of disorderly conduct against Trace O’Connell, 41, a charge that only comes with a maximum $500 fine upon conviction.

Tribal members marched to city hall in Rapid City, South Dakota, to protest the handling of a closely-watched trial. Photo by Chase Iron Eyes / Facebook

The incident drew widespread attention on Facebook after parents and chaperones said their attempts to alert staff and security at the Rapid City Rush hockey game went unheeded. Allender blamed "social media" for stirring the pot.

"This is a perfect example of how something gets on Facebook, brews there for a day or two and then has caught the attention of the authorities," Allender told KOTA. "There's no way to reconcile the social media version, which is fueled by emotion and rumors, with the factual version because a day or two on social media gives it its own set of facts that can really never be refuted in the court of public opinion."

The trial, which closed yesterday, ran for two days. Tribal members and activists believe the prosecution did not handle the case well and marched to Allender's office in protest.

O'Connell did not present a defense during the trial, which was held at the Performing Arts Center to accommodate public interest. A verdict from the judge -- a jury did not hear the case -- is expected in three to four weeks.

Native Americans represent about 12.4 percent of the population in Rapid City, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Get the Story:
Are charges against O'Connell politically motivated? (KOTA 7/23)
Trial Ends, Decision Pending In Hockey Game Incident (KELO 7/23)
Trace O'Connell trial wraps up (KEVN 7/23)
rotestors react to day 2 of Trace O'Connell trial (KEVN 7/23)

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