Judge Acquits South Dakota Man for Spilling Beer on Children at Rapid City Hockey Game
In a racially-charged case, a Judge rules for the Defendant. In response, the Native American community in Rapid City expresses outrage at the verdict.
Magistrate Judge Eric Strawn filed his decision Tuesday acquitting 41-year-old Trace O'Connell, of Philip, South Dakota. According to a 19-page court document, it is believed that the incident where the children were sprayed with beer was in response to a course of action during the hockey game and not racially motivated.
“This Court finds that the Defendant (O’Connell) at the time when a score by the Rush just prior to the score that tied the game, joined with the crowd in celebration and making a movement like he was roping, sprayed many in his suite (with beer) including: Mikayla (Ghost Bear), Taelor (Snowball), Kyra (Jackson), Kriana (Running Hawk), Julia (Cunningham), Ms. (Consuelo) Means and quite possibly more students. The Court finds the event was a celebratory reaction to the score.”
Judge Strawn ruled that the claim from Ms. Means that O’Connell was the one who uttered the phrase, “go back to the rez” was unreliable because she did not actually witness O’Connell (or anyone) saying it. A possibility exists that someone else associated with O’Connell that evening may have said it, but the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt was not met. The brief also depicted friendly interaction between the group from Philip and the American Horse students earlier in the evening.
Hours after the release of the Trace O’ Connell verdict a protest gathered outside of city hall where they were met by Mayor Steve Allender. The Rapid City Journal talked to Karin Eagle, one of the protesters who called the verdict a joke. "It was a ridiculous farce and it feels like somebody just threw a couple of scraps on the ground for us to fight over in hope that here we are we’re gonna see justice," Eagle said.
Allender who recently retired as Rapid City Police Chief before being elected to his current position told the Rapid City Journal, "I saw the group out here holding signs and I felt awkward looking out my window at them. I wanted to come out and meet them face to face to hear their concerns."
O'Connell had pleaded not guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in the January incident that spurred protests by Native Americans who believed the charge was too lenient. The judge in May had ruled out the possibility of jail time. That meant the case would not go to a jury, and the most punishment O'Connell would have received had he been convicted was a $500 fine. Strawn in July oversaw O'Connell's two-day trial, which drew as many as 250 spectators. To read the court papers regarding the case follow the link here.