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Pennington County Jail inmates now subject to body scan searches

Pennington County Jail deputies didn’t waste any time putting their new inmate body scanner to use last weekend.

And the first use of the new $163,400 scanner paid off during a shakedown at the jail, detecting meth and other illegal items among some of the approximately 560 inmates in the jail’s general population, according to Pennington County Chief Deputy Brian Mueller.

The discovery of any amount of meth — less than one ounce in this case — is significant, Mueller said, with the smuggling of drugs pandemic in the nation’s corrections system.

“Any amount of drugs in our system is too much by our standards,” Mueller said. “Any amount of drugs we can stop coming into our facility is a victory.”

The scanner was purchased with $75,000 from the state Department of Corrections and the South Dakota Drug Control Fund, with the remainder coming from the county jail annual budget.

The scanner joins pat-downs and strip searches as an additional tool jailers can use to help stop smuggling by inmates willing to go to the extreme of placing drugs and even weapons and cellphones inside their bodies.

“We have a lot of different measures and techniques in place to catch people, but if they’re willing to bring things in their body cavity, we’re really challenged to really stop that flow of illegal contraband, particularly illegal drugs," Mueller said.

Jail commander Rob Yantis said the scanner, similar, yet more precise than what airline passengers face at airport security checkpoints, is an effective way to control the introduction, possession and movement of contraband in the jail, which processes about 12,000 inmates annually.

Body scanning will replace most, but not all, strip searches and can be used whenever a problem is detected and for random searches, he said.

Yantis said jailers went cell block by cell block during the weekend shakedown, thoroughly searching individual cells and scanning the majority of the jail’s general population.

“There is only so much we can catch with our other searches, so this is going to be a pretty substantial increase in what we can see,” Yantis said.

Mueller said there are five such scanners in use in the state, including one at a minimum security prison facility elsewhere in Rapid City. Others are in use at the state women’s prison in Pierre and at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls. He believes Pennington County is the first county jail in the state to have a body scanner.

Anyone brought to the jail’s booking area and slated to be admitted to the jail’s general population is subject to a head-to-toe body scan. It involves the inmate standing on a platform, which slowly passes through a door-sized rectangular opening, then back. The scanner emits about the same radiation as a medical X-ray.

Those expected to be quickly released on bond after an appearance before a judge and jail visitors, such as attorneys, are not subject to a scanner search, Mueller said.

Deputies are aware of people with outstanding warrants turning themselves in and being used as “mules” to bring drugs and other illegal items into the jail, Mueller said.

“Our message to the public is that we now have right tool in place to prevent those items from coming into our secure facility,” he said.


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Heavy snow causing some delays on I-90

A cold front packing heavy snow and gusty winds moved through the Black Hills on Wednesday, dumping up to 5 inches of snow in some areas. 

Downtown Rapid City received around 1 inch of snow, while areas such as Lead and Sundance, Wyo., got around 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service. 

The snowstorm caused some traffic delays on Interstate 90 near the Wall and Wasta areas, said meteorologist Shane Eagan.

Authorities were inundated with calls for help Wednesday morning. "A flurry of calls coming in to go along with the snow flurries," the Rapid City Fire Department said in a tweet. "A fire, a couple of crashes and a handful of medical calls. Everyone please slow down and take your time if you are traveling. Roads are slick."

Parts of the Black Hills could see additional snowfall today, but temperatures will warm up through the weekend, Eagan said. A high of around 50 degrees is expected in Rapid City on Friday and temperatures could climb into the upper 50s by Sunday. 


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Man arrested in Sturgis rally sex sting says he intended to mentor boy

A man accused of trying to entice a 14-year-old boy into sex is countering that he actually wanted to help the boy navigate the hardships of being gay.

The first day evidence was presented in Andries Snyman’s trial Wednesday, the prosecution and defense took turns highlighting various messages he sent the boy on Aug. 5, 2016. The pair met that day on a social media app designed for gay men, exchanged messages, and by nightfall, Snyman was in handcuffs.

Snyman, 43, is facing a federal charge of attempted enticement of a minor using the internet, an offense punishable by 10 years to life in prison. A South African who was then working at a ranch in Isabel, Snyman was arrested in an annual Sturgis rally sex sting where law enforcement officers pose as minors.

Defense attorney Tom Diggins said Snyman had no thoughts about sex once he found out he was chatting with a 14-year-old. Instead, as an older gay man, Snyman wanted to offer the boy advice on how to face the difficulties of being in a sexual minority group.

“Being gay is not a choice, and being gay is not easy,” Diggins said in his opening statement at the Rapid City federal courthouse Wednesday, mentioning Snyman’s experience being a victim of violence and hate crimes. “He wanted to help this teenager, and the evidence will bear this out.”

The prosecutor, on the other hand, said the evidence will show that Snyman’s intention was to have sex with the boy. Snyman quickly turned their conversation to sexual activity, asked for details about the boy’s body and kept pushing to meet him alone late that day, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Collins.

“At no point will you see he had any concern for this boy,” Collins said in her opening statement. “Thank goodness, it wasn’t a little boy.”

Diggins challenged this supposed lack of concern during his cross-examination of the first witness, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Brian Freeouf, who posed as the 14-year-old boy.

Diggins zoomed into several screenshots of Snyman’s messages, including one where he told the boy he was curious to talk to him. “Just hope you are careful who you meet on here, some weird guys around,” the federal public defender read the text message out loud.

Collins earlier underscored the explicit sexual terms Snyman had used, such as in explaining to the boy what two males can do together.

In a recorded police interrogation played in court, Snyman said he discussed sexual activity with the boy to get him curious enough for a face-to-face meeting. Otherwise, Snyman said, the boy would check out and move on to the next man he met on the app Grindr.

Snyman, dressed in a light blue collared shirt and gray trousers, sat expressionless beside Diggins during the proceedings Wednesday. He occasionally passed notes to his lawyer and put on earphones to listen in on the multiple bench conferences, which usually followed a prosecution or defense objection. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken is presiding over the trial.

Of the 36 men arrested and charged in the Sturgis sex stings since 2013, 23 have been convicted, one has died and the rest of the cases are still ongoing. Only two other defendants have gone to trial, and both were found guilty.

Snyman’s trial, scheduled to continue till Friday, is expected to include testimony from a defense expert on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population. Snyman is detained at the Pennington County Jail.


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1 killed in Hermosa house fire

One person was killed in a house fire in Hermosa this morning, according to Pennington County Fire Service.

The victim's name was not released, and a cause of death has not been determined. 

According to a news release, the fire was reported around 10:20 a.m. at 212 Vilas St. The Battle Creek Fire Department arrived on scene a short time later and spotted heavy smoke coming from the front of the home. 

Because of the snowy weather and poor road conditions, a second alarm was called for additional manpower. When those crews arrived, they were told by a neighbor that all of the occupants of the home had made it out, the release said. 

Fire crews continued searching the home and found the victim at 11:15 a.m. Pennington County Fire Administrator Jerome Harvey said it's standard procedure to do a thorough search of structure, even when it appears everyone has been evacuated.

The victim lived at the home with the owner of the residence, who was not there at the time of the fire started, according to Harvey. The American Red Cross was contacted to provide assistance to the owner of the home.

Investigators referred further questions about the victim to the South Dakota State Fire Marshal's office, which is investigating the fire. 

Steven Monteforte, public information officer for the Battle Creek Fire Department, said it took crews around 45 minutes to put the fire out. Heavy snow and strong winds made those efforts more challenging, Monteforte added.