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O’Connell Trial Wraps Up Day One--Protest Follows

Charles Michael Ray

The trial of Trace O’Connell is underway in Rapid City this week.  
O’Connell is accused of disorderly conduct after a group of Lakota children from American Horse School were doused with beer at a hockey game in January.  
During the incident, the group of school kids and chaperones were allegedly told to “go back to the rez” by those in a corporate box seated above the stands. The school kids and chaperones left the game early.  
The city prosecutor made his case Wednesday, with the defense up Thursday.

The trial of Trace O’Connell involves 23 witnesses brought by both the city attorney, Joel Landeen, and the defense attorney, Mike Butler.   

Credit Chynna Lockett
Allender addresses a crowd during an impromptu meeting after the Trace O'Connel trial was held on Wednesday, July 22.

The trial is being held in a local high school auditorium. Roughly 200 people attended the first day.  
Witnesses included police officers, as well as both people seated in the corporate box above and some of the students and chaperones seated below.
Testimony from those in the corporate box included Jon Carley, who says the group was drinking on the road from the town of Philip, then during dinner in Rapid City, and finally in the corporate box at the game.
Civic Center officials described the group as being rowdy when they arrived at the game.
Brit Miller is another prosecution witness who was seated in the corporate box with the defendant, Trace O’Connell. Miller testified that any beer that ended up on the kids was spilled on accident during the celebration of a goal in the third period. He testified that no racial slurs were uttered during the game at the children, and he did not know there was any controversy until days later.
But a number of other prosecution witnesses say they heard the words “go back to the rez” after they were hit with beer from the corporate box during the third period. The head chaperone, Consuela Means, broke down in tears while testifying she was concerned for the children’s safety at the event. Means testified she saw beer being poured on the kids from the box above.
The city attorney declined comment until after the trial is completed.  
O’Connell’s attorney, Mike Butler, also declined to comment until later. But Butler says that Trace O’Connell was not there in person during the first day of trial so as not to influence the eye witness testimony brought by the defense. Butler says O’Connell is planning to be present on day two, but he’s not listed as a witness.

After the trial, a group of nearly 75 people marched thru Downtown Rapid City to the mayor’s office.


They were escorted into the city chambers where they met with Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender and lodged complaints. Chase Iron Eyes is an Attorney with the group Last Real Indians. He says many Natives don’t feel like this trial can result in justice for the children.

Credit Chynna Lockett
Protesters gather outside of the school auditorium where the Trace O'Connel trial was held on Wednesday, July 22.

“We have an instance of a potential conflict of interests with an email trail that we’d like to present to you that shows that the prosecutor cannot do his job effectively. He presents a clear conflict of interests and he cannot adequately represent the interests of the American Horse 57 children,” says Iron Eyes.

The protesters believe the mayor should fire the City Attorney prosecuting the case. Allender says he understands the group’s frustration but this issue is out of his hands.

“This is a very emotional group and there’s a lot of hurt in their faces and you can tell that this trial and this whole ordeal has had a real effect on these folks. They’re not here just causing trouble. They have legitimate concerns that have brought them to City Hall today. I was off site at a meeting and I was glad to come back and meet with everyone, although knowing that I wasn’t going to solve anything because this thing has been in progress for 6 months and I’ve been a mayor for 12 days,” says Allender.

Mayor Allender says he believes this case has harmed race relations in Rapid City.  A civil suit is possible following the criminal trial.