Here in South Dakota, we often feel insulated from many of the more radical things taking place in the country, but often feelings don’t reflect reality.
In 2020, many of us in South Dakota watched as rioters across the country were screaming to “defund the police” and demanding “racial equity,” all while publicly justifying their looting as “reparations,” setting fire to a federal courthouse and destroying cities, which the media deemed as “fiery but mostly peaceful” protests. 1, 2, 3 & 4
One of the common threads that began to emerge was many of these areas had implemented laws and received funding for judicial reform programs focused on reducing jail populations, putting criminals back on the street and leading to increased violent crime rates.
During the 2020 year, so many of us South Dakotans watched these riots in disbelief as something that was unimaginable in America, but with the idea that it was something that would never come to South Dakota.
However, starting in 2011, when Sheriff Kevin Thom and his administration took office, Pennington County began to see crime rates drastically increase (See FBI Pennington County Summary Crime Statistics), as Sheriff Thom’s administration began to implement many of these same type of judicial reform laws and policies seen in cities like Portland, Oregon and elsewhere where violent rioting occurred.
In fact, Governor Dennis Daugaard accredited the Pennington County Sheriff as being “instrumental in developing the Public Safety Improvement Act,” which has been highly criticized by the current South Dakota Attorney General and law enforcement as leading to increases in crime. 5, 6 & 7
And then in 2015, Pennington County submitted an application to the John D. MacArthur Foundation for the Safety and Justice grant, with the goal of reducing our County jail population “by more than 25% over a 3-year period” and with an emphasis on “racially based equity.” 8
This same grant program had been implemented in many of the areas where some of the most extreme civil violence seen in generations occurred during the 2020 riots, and all had purported the same goal of putting more criminals back on the street, resulting in the same increases in violent crime that we all saw.
Portland, Oregon, where the federal courthouse had been lit on fire, it’s county had received $4.425 million starting in 2015 to “reduce the County’s jail population … and address racial and ethnic disparities in local criminal justice systems.” 9 And then there’s Kenosha, Wisconsin, located between Lake County, Illinois and Milwaukee County, WI that both received millions by the same granting source to reduce their jail populations, and was ravaged by these riots. 10 And Minneapolis, MN where the George Floyd protests occurred, was an “innovation site” with one and the same Safety and Justice grant program. 11
According to former Rapid City Police Community Advisory Coordinator Vaughn Vargas, as a part of this initiative, “Pennington County law enforcement adopted a ‘Cite and Release’ policy for petty offenses, such as shoplifting, trespassing, public consumption, etc.” 12 In short, our law enforcement officers were being hamstrung by the administration in actually enforcing the law and taking criminals off the street.
In fact, within 3 years of adopting the Safety and Justice program, according to the 2018 Pennington County Annual Report, law enforcement weren’t even citing individuals anymore, reporting that:
“Law enforcement leadership emphasized the goal of referring to the Care Campus without a citation to allow individuals to receive services versus justice system involvement.” 13
But that was just the start of the problems associated with these policies.
Soon enough, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office implemented the “Public Safety Assessment, or PSA, that uses data to determine if certain nonviolent offenders get put in jail or released before court dates.” Even my opponent, who has defended this program, admitted this led to “increasing some of our failure to appear rates.” 14
One such example was Nathaniel Gray Eagle, who was released on July 6, 2021 on a recognizance bond but failed to appear in court ten days later on July 16. Gray Eagle later shot and killed a 16-year-old girl on August 20, 2021.
And then there was James Jumping Eagle, who was released from Pennington County Jail on February 4th, after failing to register as a sex offender, and after trying to turn himself in for other warrants, was released again and then later was arrested for killing 82-year-old grandmother Reta McGovern in her own home. 16
Motor Vehicle Thefts
Under my opponent and Sheriff’s administration, in 2020 alone, the Rapid City Police reported a 26.7% reduction in arrests, but also saw a 100% increase in murders, 48.6% increase in robberies, 43.6% increase in motor vehicle thefts, 39.1% increase in burglaries, and a 29.5% increase in aggravated assaults. 17 In fact, under my opponent and the current Sheriff’s administration, Pennington County has seen some of the highest crime rates in its history, and under these programs, has resulted in the death of over 50 Pennington County citizens. 18
That’s why it comes as no surprise that during an election year, my opponent and current Sheriff’s administration, in the Sheriff’s annual report tried to skew the crime statistics to make it appear as if there were no murders this last year, by removing the most populated areas of Box Elder and Rapid City out of the equation. Rather than being upfront and transparent by showing the 12.5% year-over-year increase and 62.5% increase in murders since 2019 that we actually saw. 19
The reality of what has happened to our beautiful county, sadly, isn’t pretty.
The fact is, we’ve seen a 600% increase in murders in this county since 2010 to present, and worse yet, my opponent has told us he wants to double-down on what got us in this mess in the first place – by continuing these same policies and programs.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I think it’s time to stop the insanity.
That’s the difference this election, my opponent wants to keep doing what we’ve been doing, putting criminals back out onto the streets, but I will do the opposite, I’ll take criminals off the street and put them in jail where they belong.
So this election, I ask you, do you believe you’re more safe today than you were twelve years ago? Do you believe crime is better than it was twelve years ago? If you answered yes, then I know your answer. But if you believe, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the past twelve years is what you’d like to see for our future, then I could suggest another choice that you have.
We do not have to continue living in fear, for our children or our families like we have.
That’s why I’m asking for your vote come June 7th. Let’s make a change that matters.
- “BLM Organizer who called looting ‘reparations’ dismisses peaceful protesting,” Lee Brown, New York Post
- “Portland protesters gassed after setting fire at courthouse, Associated Press, Tampa Bay Times
- “One Author’s Controversial View: ‘In Defense Of Looting’,” Natalie Escobar, NPR
- “CNN ridiculed for ‘Fiery But Mostly Peaceful’ caption with video of burning building in Kenosha,” Joe Concha, The Hill
- “State of the State 2015,” SD Legislature, Governor Dennis Daugaard, Jan. 13, 2015
- “Attorney general tries once more to reduce use of presumptive probation in South Dakota courts,” Bob Mercer, KELOLAND
- “Legal battle: SB 70 creating rift between officials, judicial process,” Jake Shama, Mitchell Republic
- Pennington County MacArthur Safety & Justice Grant Application
- “New Funding Will Help Support Initiatives Aimed at Safely Reducing Multnomah County’s Jail Population and Reducing Racial Disparities,” Multnomah County
- “Our Network,” Safety and Justice
- “Safety and Justice Challenge Expands to 52 Cities, Counties” Safety and Justice Program
- “Law Enforcement Participation in County-wide Justice Reform Leads to Reductions in Disproportionate Minority Confinement,” Vaugh Vargas, International Association of Chiefs of Police
- 2018 Pennington County MacArthur Safety and Justice Annual Report
- “Crowded Pennington County Jail population begins to drop,” Stewart Huntington, KOTA TV
- “Man Faces Manslaughter Charge in Death of Rapid City Teen,” US News & World Report
- “More information emerges about murder suspect,” KOTA staff, KOTA TV
- “RCPD releases 2020 annual crime statistics,” Rapid City Police Department
- Crime Data Explorer, Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Pennington County Sheriff 2021 Annual Report