Rapid City Journal
To view all of my articles for the Rapid City Journal, click here.
Government/police accountability and public records-based stories
- I used Medicare records to show that the two Rapid City nursing homes with significant COVID-19 outbreaks are some of the worst-ranked facilities in the state and have a history of infection control violations. I also spoke with a staff member at one of the facilities who contracted the virus and passed it onto family members.
- I wrote about the life and death of Andrea Circle Bear, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who died of coronavirus after being transferred from a South Dakota jail to federal prison for a low-level drug crime while pregnant in the midst of the pandemic.
- I wrote about how a former prosecutor barred from working as a private security guard was still doing so after I discovered a video that showed him tackling a homeless Native American man accused of trespassing. His company will lose its license if he breaks the rules again.
- The Department of Corrections began sharing coronavirus prevention policies and testing data after I wrote about how inmates and their loved ones were upset about the lack of transparency.
- Using court documents, interviews and dispatch calls received through a public records request, I explain how a woman was kidnapped and raped just hours after asking for a deputy to stop by her rural Custer County home after receiving a threat from her ex-boyfriend who recently bonded out of jail for violating a protection order. A nearby marshal without jurisdiction checked in on the woman but deputies never arrived.
- After receiving an internal police document I confirmed that nine women – not eight as officials reported – walked away from the minimum security unit at the South Dakota Women's Prison after a fellow inmate tested positive for the coronavirus. I then interviewed inmates and loved ones who spoke about the conditions and fear inside the prison.
- I wrote about when Marsy's Law – a controversial victims' rights law being adopted in several states – was first invoked by a law enforcement officer in South Dakota to prevent her name from being released by state officials after she shot someone. My reporting was shared by The Marshall Project and cited in multiple Reason articles.
- Using a death certificate obtained through a public records request, I wrote about how a man died from a police shooting and neck injury after his car fell off a cliff after he allegedly rammed his car into a Rosebud Sioux patrol vehicle. I am waiting for the FBI to fulfill my FOIA request for documents related to this case.
- I wrote about how federal, state and tribal officials refused to identify the victims and driver weeks after two people died after an Oglala Sioux police officer rear ended their car.
- I wrote about how U.S. Attorneys in Rapid City dropped two criminal cases involving the same FBI agent who judges found gave false testimony and made inconsistent statements. The agent has now been transferred to another office.
- I used public records to show that county officials approved a housing development after being told it would be built over a mine and that soil boring may be needed to determine if dangerous cavities exist. I interviewed residents who are in emotional and financial shambles after part of the development was evacuated after part of the mine collapsed.
- After receiving tips from community members, I explained how the Rapid City and Pennington County websites had wrong information about some voting locations on their websites until about noon an election day.
- I wrote about how a defendant in need of competency restoration waited more than four months in jail before receiving treatment because the state mental health hospital has a shortage of beds and nurses, and because there's no other facility that can accept jailed defendants despite a law saying the hospital must contract out services for people qualified for admission.
- I used a civilian video, interviewed a witness and received information from Highway Patrol to write about about a trooper who used his dog and stun gun on an unarmed man who Highway Patrol says told the trooper that another person had a gun on him.
- I wrote about two public safety officials being disciplined after receiving tips about racist, violent and offensive comments they posted to social media after the killing of George Floyd.
Native American affairs
- I interviewed families and visited a graveyard with a woman who recently learned their ancestors died at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School and were getting ready to attend the first memorial walk for the children who died there. I then attended the second annual memorial walk.
- I explained how after the boarding school shut down, Congress said the land could be sold to churches, used for "needy Indians," or given to the city, school district and National Guard for free. None of the land went to Native Americans and experts say the city and school district are illegally letting other entities use the land. The local Native American community is now in talks with the city and school district over possible land swaps.
- I wrote about the first permanent healing space in the country for loved ones of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
- I interviewed a Lakota Two Spirit couple who helped legalize same-sex marriage and pass hate crime legislation on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
- I reported that the South Dakota Attorney General is in the minority of attorneys general who didn't sign a legal brief in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act.
- I wrote about a now-stalled effort to have citizens – rather than legislators – of the Oglala Sioux Tribe change their constitution for the first time.
- I confronted the Secretary of Tribal Relations in the hallway of a Rapid City hotel after legislators on the State-Tribal Relations Committee were upset he was in the building but couldn't find time to address the group.
- After witnessing an execution I vividly described the procedure and captured the emotions of the victim's loved ones. I also wrote about the execution process, backstory of the case and allegations that the murderer was sentenced to death due to a homophobic jury.
- In a sentencing story, I outlined how a man created a fake plot involving the Hell's Angels to convince four other men to kidnap, murder and bury his ex-girlfriend – and not tell authorities about it for a year – in a textbook case of escalating domestic violence.
- I covered the case against a Rapid City priest who sexually abused a girl inside the cathedral and wrote about how the victim's mother, prosecutor and defense lawyer all criticized the diocese's response to the incident.
- I attended a hearing before the South Dakota Supreme Court and described the arguments over whether a retired Rapid City police officer was allowed to collect survivor benefits from her late wife, whom she married soon after same-sex marriage became legal but after her spouse retired from the same police force.
- I captured emotional testimony from Native American men (here and here) who recounted being sexually abused by a white Indian Health Service doctor when they were vulnerable boys. Before the trial, I used affidavits to illustrate the doctor's grooming patterns in Montana and South Dakota reservations, and wrote about how an Oglala Sioux representative feels the IHS is not doing enough for victims and the community.
- I explained how a lawsuit is citing an 1855 treaty between the U.S. government, Blackfeet Nation and other tribes to argue the IHS owes reparations to three men who say they were sexually abused by the doctor mentioned above. Similar arguments citing other treaties — including the "bad men among the whites" section of 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty — have held up in courts.
- I wrote about a sovereign citizen – people believe they are sovereign from the government and therefore don't have to follow laws, pay taxes or answer to authorities – charged with grand theft for allegedly stealing city water and how he was nearly charged with contempt for not listening to the judge and following court procedures.
- I wrote about the first South Dakota judge to decide whether a warrant is needed to seize a placenta from an abortion being used for DNA evidence in a statutory rape case.
- I wrote about the "exceedingly rare" decision by two federal judges to rule that an FBI agent gave false testimony in a grand jury hearing.
- In another rare legal decision, I wrote about a federal judge deciding for his first time to overturn a jury's verdict after a man was convicted of making a false statement related to an alleged brutal assault that no one has been charged with.
- I wrote about a Colorado man charged with trafficking marijuana in South Dakota after he, his employer, a state hemp association and his lawyer all said he was delivering hemp – not marijuana – to Minnesota, a claim that seems to be backed up by testing provided by both the defense and prosecution.
Criminal justice reform
- I attended the first mental health court in South Dakota and interviewed two participants
- I wrote about how the Pennington County prosecutor and public defender disagree on whether changing South Dakota's strict drug laws would help tackle meth addiction, swamped courts, and jails and prisons full of drug offenders.
- I profiled Pennington County's growing adult diversion program and one of its participants.
- I wrote about how after the Attorney General spearheaded a bill that would repeal a sentencing law aimed at criminal justice reform, some Pennington Count leaders said it would be unwise to change the law without conducting a complete review of the state's reform efforts. The bill ultimately failed.
- I interviewed a recovering meth addict and former prisoner about how he thinks the state could fight its meth and incarceration problems.
- I observed a community work program meant to keep low-level, non-violent offenders out of jail and interviewed two of its participants.
Crime, policing and public safety
- After a deadly shooting at an apartment complex, I interviewed a neighbor of the gunman and the families of the gunman, shooting victim and elderly man who died while evacuating the building to piece together a timeline and description of the attempted mass shooting.
- I interviewed family members of a Rapid City middle schooler who were upset that a police officer struck her in the face to stop her from fighting with another girl.
- Using a federal affidavit and interview with an investigator, I explained how technology companies like Google, a national child-protection organization and local law enforcement work together to catch people accused of creating and distributing child porn.
- I interviewed a woman disappointed with the level of communication from the Rapid City Police Department as it worked to determine whether her father died by homicide or suicide, and spoke with family members who were frustrated after the department initially labeled their loved one's death a homicide but now say it's a suicide.
- I wrote about how unlike the South Dakota Attorney General, the local state's attorney believes hemp and CBD without THC is legal, and declined to charge a woman after police raided and seized CBD products from her health-food store.
- After a three-hour standoff with the Rapid City-Pennington County SWAT team, I interviewed five people who had nothing to do with the crime and were upset with a lack of communication from the police, who said they had reason to believe the group was involved at the time of the event.
- Using data and interviews, I explained how public safety and education officials in Pennington County are seeing an increase in serious juvenile crimes and are frustrated that the criminal justice system and community resources aren't stopping some repeat offenders. I interviewed a public defender who cautioned against changing policy in response to a small group of teens.
- I broke the news that the Rapid City Police Department installed surveillance cameras in a public park for the first time. I interviewed a spokesman who said the cameras are meant to prevent and solve crimes that are mostly committed by and against the city's vulnerable homeless population. I also spoke with a homeless man and a man who volunteers with the homeless community about their concerns with the new cameras.
- I told the story of a 62-year-old barefoot former principal and college football player who confronted a suspect trying to steal his pickup.
- I interviewed the grandparents and 9-year-old sister of a 16-year-old girl from rural Wyoming who was fatally shot by a teenager she met online.
- After receiving a tip about a police shooting that wasn't announced to the public, I wrote about how a police officer in a small South Dakota town was cleared after firing her gun twice in 104 days. She's overseen by a police chief who once had his certification suspended for using excessive force.
- I localized a national AP story by breaking down how the South Dakota Department of Health shares the names and addresses of coronavirus patients with first responders. I also interviewed five people who had the virus or have loved ones with it to learn if they've heard of this program and what they make of it.
- I interviewed the parents of a girl who is still missing after running away from a rural Pennington County residential treatment home on Feb. 3, 2019. They spoke about their daughter's personality and why they placed her in the home, and what it's like to having a missing daughter and be harassed by "keyboard investigators."
- I wrote about a Rapid City woman who's turned her life around in prison after fleeing from police and crashing into vehicles while driving high on meth with her son in the back seat. She helped plan the first women-organized anti-meth rally at the women's prison.
- I shared the story of a former prisoner and drug user who is publicly campaigning against meth use after the drug killed his twin brother.
- I interviewed a young mother who had to make a difficult decision about her son who was declared brain dead after her ex-fiance allegedly punched him in the head.