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Rapid City Changed Firing Reason From ‘Racial Profiling’ To ‘Lack of Judgement’

Rapid City Police Department

A Rapid City police officer was fired last year for alleged racial profiling. But the agency later changed the reason to “a lack of judgement” as part of the resignation agreement.  

The officer’s lawyer says the change exonerates his client while city officials say it was just part of the agreement and doesn’t change the facts of the case.  

What follows is from public records and documents provided to SDPB: 

Last year, Officer Jeffrey Otto decided there was reasonable suspicion to pull over a vehicle for taking a long stop at an intersection.  

Otto told a dispatcher there was “a young Native American man driving a really new Mercedes.” He followed the car and told dispatch there wasn’t anything suspicious once he saw “a middle-aged Asian guy” get out of the vehicle.   

The police chief fired him five days later for racial profiling and Otto appealed his case to an administrative court

Otto dropped his case after Rapid City agreed to change the termination from a firing to a “resignation in lieu of termination.” The city also changed the reason for the original firing.   

"After further administrative review, and while we maintain that termination was proper, we are withdrawing the reason for termination from 'racial profiling,' and changing it to 'lack of judgment' based on the language used by Officer Otto," the police chief wrote to the former officer. 

Rex Haag, Otto’s attorney, said his client made the comment while he was in an area where young Native American men were suspected of stealing cars. Haag also said racial profiling requires an action.  

“They could not prove racial profiling under their policies as a violation because nobody ever got stopped, detained or otherwise,” he said.  

Mayor Steve Allender, a former police chief, said the city wasn’t trying to downplay the incident and that anyone who reviews the case will see the full investigation. 

“This guy displayed this tendency or this plan to give a young, (American) Indian man law enforcement attention but not a middle-aged Asian guy,” he said.  

Otto has no prior complaints of racially motivated actions or arrests, according to Haag.