Victoria Wicks

SDPB Freelance Reporter/Producer

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She has in the past been a newspaper reporter, and she spent about 14 years advocating for crime victims in Rapid City and Aberdeen. Vicky is also a creative writer; several of her short stories have been published, one of them in an anthology titled Fishing for Chickens: Short Stories about Rural Youth. In addition, Vicky is a visual artist, creating pottery, watercolors, oil and acrylic paintings, and photographs. She holds a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of South Dakota.

The Statehouse Podcast for February 28th, 2016 includes coverage of legislation on transgender bathrooms, possible Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana, and education funding.

Victoria Wicks file photo

A federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act in Pennington County is now back in motion. Judge Jeffrey Viken issued an order on March 30 last year, finding that judges, prosecutors, and child protection officials violated ICWA in the way they conducted hearings immediately after children were removed from their parents' care. For almost a year, Viken has been reviewing defendants' motions for reconsideration. SDPB's Victoria Wicks has followed this case since it was filed in federal court in early 2013.

Legislative Research Council

House Bill 1107 is dead. This is the bill pushed by Rep. Scott Craig, a minister from Rapid City. It would allow people and businesses to discriminate, on religious grounds, against gay, lesbian, and transgender people without fear of losing government contracts, grants, and tax exemptions.

Craig made a brief statement in this morning's Senate Judiciary hearing.

Victoria Wicks file photo

A member of a fundamentalist Mormon sect with a settlement in Custer County appeared on an indictment in federal court Wednesday in Rapid City.

Seth Steed Jeffs, 42, is charged with money laundering and federal benefits fraud. Jeffs is the leader of a settlement near Pringle run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS. The Custer County Sheriff served the arrest warrant, according to the Utah District of the Department of Justice.

Also charged are 10 Utah FLDS members.

Photo courtesy of SD Attorney General

The Senate Judiciary has approved a bill that adds the charge of aggravated vehicular homicide to state statute. It also categorizes the existing crime of vehicular homicide as violent, rather than nonviolent, resulting in a longer prison sentence for convicts. Proponents point specifically to the conviction of Ronald Ray Fischer as justification for changing the law. Opponents say it paints with too broad a brush.

Photo courtesy of Graves Garrett LLC

In November, South Dakota voters will consider whether the interest charged by short-term lenders should be capped at 36 percent. The South Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday, Feb. 16, challenging an Attorney General's explanation of that ballot initiative. Opponents say the explanation fails to point out that the initiative kills off payday loans, title loans, and some car loans.

Legislative Research Council

House Bill 1107 is headed to the Senate side of the legislature. That's the bill designed to protect religious entities against losing government money or tax breaks because they discriminate against gay or transgender people. The bill passed the House on Monday, Feb. 8. Proponents say the bill protects religious freedom, but opponents say it is likely unconstitutional and will result in lawsuits against the state.

In a quick turnaround, the South Dakota Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Ronald Ray Fischer. He's serving time for driving drunk and killing two U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees. The court heard oral arguments on Jan. 13 and released its opinion Thursday, Feb. 4. Fischer argued that the trial court should have suppressed blood tests showing his alcohol content to be almost three and a half times the legal limit.

For more information on federal and state law and supreme court decisions, follow the links posted with the story below.

Jenifer Jones

The Statehouse Podcast for February 3nd, 2016 includes coverage of legislation on transgender and gay marriage polices and effort to modify a measure dealing with health care passed by voters in 2014.  The podcast also includes an update on the bill requiring the results of abortion facility inspections to be posted on-line and legislation that requires schools to implement and practice safety plans.

Photo courtesy of ACLU-SD

The House State Affairs committee has voted to approve a bill that ensures continued state funding and tax breaks for entities that discriminate against gay or transgender people. House Bill 1107 protects organizations or people who act on their religious belief that marriage is reserved for male and female partners and that biological gender is unchangeable.

Photo courtesy of SD Attorney General

Prison inmates who committed murder while juveniles have a chance to escape their mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole. The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision this week that Miller v. Alabama is retroactive, and so inmates convicted before that 2012 decision can now ask for a reduced sentence. Justices say states can offer parole eligibility to the affected inmates and avoid a new trial or sentence hearing. In South Dakota, only one inmate, Paul Dean Jensen, is affected.

PUC photo

CenturyLink customers will soon receive phone books on demand, rather than receiving them every year without asking, according to a declaratory ruling made Tuesday, Jan. 19, by the Public Utilities Commission.

Customers who request phone books can put in a standing order, rather than having to ask every year.

CenturyLink, parent company of Qwest, contracts with Dex for phone books. The publisher has been transitioning away from paper phone directories and moving toward digital lists online.

Photo courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has to decide if phone books are going the way of the hand-written letter. Phone book publisher Dex is transitioning from paper directories to online listings in a number of states. Two weeks ago the state PUC heard from representatives of Dex, Qwest, and CenturyLink, who want to transition away from printing phone books in South Dakota and publish directories online. The commission delayed making a decision until its hearing on Jan. 19.

In May 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law officers need to get a warrant to draw blood from DUI suspects unless exigent circumstances do not allow.

A year later, the South Dakota Supreme Court heard arguments that the state's blood draw process was unconstitutional.

In the gap between those two events, Ronald Ray Fischer was arrested in Charles Mix County for running a stop sign while drunk and killing two U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees in a parking lot.

On December 18, 2012, 16-year-old Braiden McCahren of Pierre was arrested for shooting and killing a friend and threatening another friend with a shotgun. He was charged with first-degree murder, but at trial was convicted of second-degree murder. His attorney argued before the South Dakota Supreme Court that McCahren didn't have the chance to defend against the charge of which he was convicted.


The decision to allow the jury to consider second-degree murder came after both parties had rested their cases and just before parties made closing arguments.

In 2010, during the night of July 29-30, the Sioux Falls area saw unprecedented rainfall. Subsequent flooding damaged the property of Lincoln County landowners along the east side of South Dakota Highway 11. Five couples sued the state, saying that the highway blocked the flow of the Spring Creek Tributary because two 48-inch culverts were inadequate. At trial in the Second Circuit, the landowners prevailed, and the state appealed to the Supreme Court. Justices heard oral arguments in that case Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Image by Victoria Wicks

The jury in a Pennington County child abuse case has failed to reach a unanimous verdict. On Friday evening, Jan. 8, after determining that the jury was hung, Seventh Circuit Judge Wally Eklund declared a mistrial. It is now up to the State's Attorney to decide whether to go through another trial. If tried again, Patrick White Face will face only one charge. Before the jury went into deliberation, Judge Eklund entered a judgment of acquittal on Count II.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

A Rapid City defendant accused of child abuse testified on his own behalf Thursday, Dec. 7, before a Pennington County jury. Patrick White Face is accused of injuring his infant daughter on two separate occasions about five years ago. White Face told jurors he did not cause his baby's injuries, and that his version of what happened has remained consistent since the day the injuries occurred. SDPB's Victoria Wicks is following this week-long trial.

More of the story:

The Pennington County trial for Patrick White Face comes to a close on Friday, Dec. 8.

Victoria Wicks file photo

If a presidential permit becomes available for the Keystone XL pipeline after the next election, it has the go-ahead to pass through western South Dakota. The state Public Utilities Commission, on Tuesday, Jan. 5, accepted TransCanada's certification of its ability to meet conditions outlined in the original permit granted in 2010. Commission Chairman Chris Nelson explained his thought processes and the legal reasons for the validation.

More of the story:

Photo by Victoria Wicks

A Rapid City jury heard opening statements Monday, Dec. 4, in a criminal trial on allegations of abuse that left an infant brain-damaged, deaf, and blind. Patrick White Face is charged with breaking his six-week-old daughter's leg and then, four days later, causing other injuries. But the defense attorney says the child's physical symptoms are consistent with illness and do not point to abuse.

Image by Victoria Wicks

A defendant charged with child abuse is scheduled to go to trial for the second time Monday, Jan. 4. Patrick White Face was convicted in 2013, but that conviction was overturned by the South Dakota Supreme Court.

In the first trial, the state charged White Face with one count, a continuous act, although he stood accused of injuring his infant daughter on two separate occasions.

UJS photo

Fall River County votes have been counted more than a year after the election. And according to the Tuesday, Dec. 29, canvass, voters have turned down county approval of a petroleum-contaminated soil dump proposed for a site near Edgemont. But the state's attorney says the story doesn't end there. High Plains Resources LLC has filed notice of another appeal.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has issued an opinion that gives both sides what they asked for. The state's attorney argued for a new rule to determine whether a defendant's confession is admissible, and the court agreed that the old rule has outlived its usefulness. The defense attorney asked for the old rule to still apply for her client, and the court agreed that it could not in all fairness apply the new rule retroactively in the middle of trial preparation.

Victoria Wicks file photo

Even though the White House has killed the Keystone XL pipeline project, the permit in South Dakota is still alive. On Tuesday, Dec. 22, the state Public Utilities Commission denied a request from pipeline opponents to revoke the construction permit issued in 2010 and to stop deliberations on recertification of the project.

Interveners argue that a condition of the South Dakota permit is federal approval, and on Nov. 6, the White House refused to give that approval.

File photo by Victoria Wicks

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender has worked for the city for 35 years, first as a beat cop and then moving up the ladder to become Chief of Police. After he retired in May 2014, he ran for mayor and won the election held in June this year.

As a police officer, Allender saw a range of sociological issues, one of them homelessness, a condition that in itself encompasses a range of sociological issues.

UJS photo

Fall River County is now able to count the ballots from a vote taken more than a year ago. The election results have been on hold pending review by the South Dakota Supreme Court, which made its opinion public Thursday, Dec. 10. The dispute was heard in oral arguments in early October. SDPB's Victoria Wicks explains how this situation came about and what happens now.

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Riter-Rapp

A state prison inmate convicted of second-degree murder while he was still a juvenile is appealing his case to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Oral arguments, first scheduled to be heard in December, have been continued to Jan. 13.

On the murder conviction, Braiden McCahren was sentenced about a year ago to 25 years, with 15 suspended. If he had been convicted of the same charge prior to 2012, he would have faced a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

After a 25-year career, Susan Stark Christianson left a political job in Alaska state government and took off on a quest to explore the wisdom of grandmothers. Her goal was to travel from Siberia to Patagonia to find what female elders value and want to teach. From those interviews, Christianson created and published a book, and her videotaped interviews are now woven into a rough cut documentary.

Photo courtesy of Susan Stark Christianson

A writer and filmmaker from Alaska is bringing her documentary, The Wisdom of the Grandmothers, to Rapid City later this week.

Susan Stark Christianson developed the film from interviews she gathered for a book, published in 2010. The documentary first aired on public television in Alaska on Mother's Day.

Now Christianson is traveling around the United States, screening the film. She says her message is that there will not be peace on Earth until the voices of grandmothers are heard.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

The documentary Rising Voices features workers and volunteers with the Lakota Language Consortium. One of them is Albino "Junior" Garcia, who lives at Rockyford, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Garcia travels to schools where Lakota is taught and lends his support and energy to the effort. On Sunday, Nov. 14, before the documentary was screened at the Journey Museum in Rapid City, SDPB's Victoria Wicks sat in on Garcia's language class, when he gave a Black Hills group a taste of his teaching skills.