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Rushmore Roadblock Organizer Heads To Trial

Lee Strubinger

The case against a Lakota organizer who was part of a July roadblock near Mt. Rushmore is heading to trial.
Nick Tilsen—the founder of NDN Collective—faces three felony charges and four misdemeanors.
Tilsen says he will not consider a plea deal.
“Oh no, we’re going to trial,” Tilsen says. “We’re not taking no plea deals. These charges are all unfounded.”
Tilsen faces three felony charges. One alleges that he stole a shield from a National Guard soldier. Another charge claims that Guard member was afraid of "bodily injury.”
The third felony charge is for allegedly directing a van toward a police officer.
Protestors used three vans to block the highway leading up to Mt. Rushmore before the fireworks show in July. The state says those individuals were outside a protest zone established in Keystone - east of the monument.

Brendan Johnson is one attorney representing Tilsen. He says they want a jury to see the entire picture.
“And that is what we will be emphasizing,” Johnson says. “That there was another group of protestors there that were behaving inappropriately—including behaving inappropriately to law enforcement. This was a situation that we don’t believe needed to escalate in the manner in which it did.”
Tilsen supporters have collected more than 14,500 signatures asking the Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo to drop the charges. They handed over those documents after a preliminary hearing.

Vargo says he doesn’t comment on pending cases.
“I’m at something of a disadvantage,” Vargo says. “I don’t get to have a conversation with you about the why’s and the wherefores. But I will certainly take this seriously and I will review both these petitions and other outreach that we have received.”
Tilsen faces up to 16 years and 30 days in jail. No other hearing or trial dates have been set.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.