Closing Arguments Made In O'Connell Trial, Verdict Weeks Away

Jul 23, 2015

Tate Mani Moves Camp joins the protest outside of the school auditorium where the Trace O'Connel trial was held on Wednesday, July 22.
Credit Chynna Lockett

  The defense attorney in the trial of Trace O’Connell rested his case Thursday morning without calling any witnesses.

O’Connell is charged with disorderly conduct. He’s accused of shouting racial slurs and dousing a number of Native American students with beer during a hockey game in January.

Both defense and prosecuting attorneys made closing arguments in the case.

Joel Landeen is the city attorney prosecuting this case. He says both sides agree that that Trace O’Connell sprayed beer while he was celebrating a goal during a Rush hockey game in January. That beer landed on a group of Native American students seated below.
    
O’Connell was seated with a group from Philip in a corporate box. The students were at the game on a school trip from the town of Allen near Pine Ridge. The student group got up and left the game after chaperones cited safety concerns about the rowdy adults above.  
 
Landeen argues the beer spraying was not an accident and that it meets the requirement in the law of being reckless and causing harm. He says the group from Philip did not apologize to the students. Rather, several witnesses with the school group said they were told to “go back to the rez.”

Landeen says this racism is much worse because it was directed at children who were harmed by the incident. He argues that following the game, the people in the corporate box from Philip then tried to minimize and cover up their actions.
 
Under the city's disorderly conduct ordinance, to be convicted, the accused must have intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly uttered any words or performed any acts which physically abused or threatened any person or persons in fear of safety of life, limb, health or property.

O'Connell's attorney, Mike Butler, rested without calling any witnesses. Butler says the prosecution based its case on flawed logic. He says the city failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Trace O’Connell is guilty of this charge.   
He says the prosecution did not prove a threat of criminal violence in this case, and there is no proof that Trace O'Connell uttered any comments like “go back to the rez.”

Butler says O’Connell should not be held responsible for the actions of the entire group. Butler says the spilling of beer occurred in a celebratory moment, and this doesn’t fit the legal definition of reckless conduct. Butler says beer spraying doesn’t constitute physical abuse.  

Neither attorney was immediately available for comment. Trace O’Connell left the courtroom surrounded by law enforcement.
   
The judge in the case, Eric Strawn, says he will issue a lengthy written opinion in three to four weeks' time.