Jul 30, 2015 - Protect the Sacred: Fighting Injustice Against the Lakota 57 by Karin Eagle
By now most people have found out some of the outcome of the Trace O’Connell trial. He is the person who is accused of yelling racial remarks at Lakota children at a hockey game, and then spilling beer over them as added insult.
The trial was moved from the Pennington County Courthouse and into an historic building with a theater. The judge and both prosecution and defense tables were situated on a stage, which was quite appropriate for what transpired.
Following each side’s opening statements the prosecution proceeded to call four law enforcement officers and personnel to testify to their reports and the interviews they had with the children and their chaperons that night. None of the interviews had been held less than two weeks after the incident was reported, despite the mass media attention it received less than 24 hours after the assault. Basically, its not like the police did not know about what was being reported. I’m still not sure why they waited so long, and why they didn’t use people trained to work with children during the interviews. From their testimony it can be easily inferred that the some of the interviews were conducted by nothing more than traffic cops.
Following the law enforcement testimony it quickly became apparent that the prosecutor was not actually trying to very hard to obtain any kind of conviction. I sat through testimony of some of O’Connell’s good old buddies and heard some pretty weak objection from the prosecutor when they were allowed, by the judge, to stray from the questioning and paint themselves as the fine upstanding citizens they obviously believe they are.
It was at the beginning of the children’s testimony that Duane and I were removed from the courtroom for looking at my cellphone. At the beginning of the trial the judge said NO VISUAL OR AUDIO RECORDING and that if our phones were on to silence them. That is exactly what I did. I looked at my phone to see if my kids had text me or called when a sheriff’s deputy rolled up and told me to go with him. Talk about a heart pounding moment!
Once outside, Duane, who had been asked to leave by another deputy, and I were surrounded by six, yes SIX deputies, and told that we had been warned numerous times to turn our phones off. Well, no, that was not at all accurate, but I don’t think that mattered. I told them that I was doing what the judge said, but one of them told me “well I’m saying they had to be turned off!”
I made the comment that they shouldn’t be disrespectful to the judge by trying to supersede his orders.
Turns out that after we had been removed from the courtroom the JUDGE’S own cellphone rang!!!!! Did he answer it? I am still not sure, but witnesses tell me that he did look at it, and during one of the kid’s testimony too!
So, I missed out on everyone else s testimony, but to be very honest, I don’t think any testimony from any of the Allen people was going to make a difference….except one, but that story will make it’s way out soon enough.
Sitting outside waiting for another break or the conclusion of the day, it was brought to my attention through an email that the Prosecutor had responded to a notice of intent to sue in Federal Court a couple days earlier, prior to the trial beginning. The notice of intent showed that the City of Rapid City, which that particular prosecutor serves as city attorney, various other entities and individuals including Trace O’Connell. That notice basically told City Attorney Landeen that he was, in affect, O’Connell’s co-defendant in that coming lawsuit.
In his letter of response Landeen informed the attorney who filed the notice that it would be hard to prove a case of racism and harassment because He, Landeen, had testimony from students,staff and others that there was No harassment of any form. The only way he would already have those statements was in preparing for this “prosecution” of O’Connell. So, honestly, how hard could Landeen have been trying to prosecute his own future co-defendant by using evidence/testimony that could harm them in a civil lawsuit?
So, with those questions in hand, many of the parents and supporters took a walk to the Mayor’s office. He wasn’t in his office, he was at home, from what his office told us. We assembled in the City Council meeting chambers and waited for him to arrive. Once he did, he was very blunt about the fact that nothing he said or did would make us happy. Well, we didn’t want to be made happy, we wanted actual justice that everyone else is afforded in this town and state. We weren’t looking for any special treatment or privileges, we just wanted the justice system to actually WORK.
I was naive. I walked down to the Mayor’s office with every belief that once he saw what Landeen had written the Mayor would see the conflict and at least remove Landeen from the case. What I really wanted was to see Landeen FIRED because of his intentions to benefit from losing a conviction of O’Connell. HUGE ethical problem.
So, yes, my heart plummeted and I was angry beyond reason when Mayor Steven Allender told me, to my face, that he already knew about that letter.
Well, Yeah…of COURSE he knew about it. It’s all par for their course. I left after that. I saw red, then I saw black, and I was grieved. Naive no more.
Turns out the City Council et al knows about this and it’s just not an issue for them.
Anyways, this was the first night of the trial. It was an anxious night thinking about what the defense would present in court the next morning. As it turned out there was no need for worry.
Considering the absolutely weak and almost nonexistent attempt to convict O’Connell, defense attorney Mark Butler pretty much had his job done for him. He rested without calling anyone, including O’Connell who was in attendance for the first time since he had been charged with the class II misdemeanor.
Landeen gave his closing argument, which was a total reiteration of his opening. Butler’s closing was an almost poetic shredding of the prosecutions case. If I weren’t on the side of the children and their families, I would have stood and cheered and risked another expulsion from the courtroom/theater, it was that good. To bad Butler was there for O’Connell; he was the only attorney who actually bothered to show up to do his job in my estimation.
Point by point Butler told the judge what Landeen could have done to prove the point, but hadn’t. Yeah, Butler literally said that the prosecution could have called the ONE person who had actual verbal contact with O’Connell, Justin Poor Bear, but failed, yes FAILED, to do so.
I want to go on record right now as saying that I was appreciative of how Butler cross examined the Children’s testimony. He could have easily tore them to pieces, but he didn’t and that shows some depth to his character. I say this in contradiction to a statement released elsewhere about how rude and horrible Butler was to the kids. I was anticipating that and so I know that I would have been blasting him all over the world if that were the case, and it just wasn’t. Still doubt his judgement in accepting clients, but that’s okay too.
After the closing arguments were made the judge dropped his bomb on us. He was giving himself three to six weeks to make his decision. I’m not certain if a class two misdemeanor that he had already removed the possibility of jail time for is so life changing that he would have to deliberate that long for. Only one side, the prosecution, was presented to him, so I’m not clear why he needs to take that long. The only reason that makes sense was presented by a parent; The Sturgis Rally. Nobody wants an angry Native population to be protesting and marching and making any kind of noise when the anticipated Not Guilty verdict is announced. Well, since that is the most probably reason,they aren’t going to like the relentless yet positive attention we are going to keep on this issue, including educating our Biker Rally friends about the case, just in case they don’t know yet.
Sturgis Bike Rally 2015, the 75th Anniversary is going to be remembered for all the information and education on the issue of Injustice for Lakota Children!
Another thing I want to make known is that, personally, if I hear the judge hand down a Guilty verdict, I will launch an investigation into the judge. With Landeen’s horribly weak and ineffectual arguments, there is No Way O’Connell can be found guilty. We just have to get it in our head that Justice for our kids is not going to be found on that theater stage! I’m sorry, that’s just my own opinion and its a hard truth for me to face, but it motivates me to find other ways.
So, we wait. We aren’t, however, waiting idly. We have big plans and big moves we are making. We will be addressing the fraud and exploitation of the families and the children by others using their name #Lakota57 to raise money that isn’t getting to them. We will be addressing what we see as ethical violations and I personally will be addressing the Rapid City City Council about their lack of concern over Landeen’s actions and motives.
Above all, those amazing kids are going to be respected and motivated to regain their footing and return to their important standing in their community, in their tribe, and in Their world!