A spokeswoman for a man who claims the letters "KKK" were carved into his abdomen during surgery in Rapid City said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley misled the public by saying an investigation found no wrongdoing.

A news release Monday from Jackley's office outlining the results of an investigation by the state Division of Criminal Investigation implies that the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services also concluded their investigations into 69-year-old Vernon Traversie's claims, when in fact those investigations remain open, Traversie's spokeswoman, Kara Briggs, said in a news release.

"There are two federal investigations ongoing, and neither has ruled out that a hate crime was committed," Briggs said. "Vern is just interested in accuracy."

The news release said that "The South Dakota Attorney General's Office" had concluded its investigation of Traversie's claims.

Traversie is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in north-central South Dakota and is legally blind. He claims the letters KKK were carved into his abdomen while hospitalized last year for heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

The news release from Jackley's office outlined a timeline of several investigations and continued by saying "according to the investigations, the scars on Mr. Traversie are a side effect of the surgery performed on him."

The use of the phrase "according to the investigations" implies that all authorities investigating Traversie's case — federal, state, county, city and tribal — have come to the same conclusion, Briggs wrote in an e-mail.

Jackley said, however, that he only spoke for his office.

"I don't speak for the U.S. Attorney. I don't speak for (Rapid City Police Chief) Allender. I don't speak for the (Cheyenne River Sioux) tribe," he said.

Jackley's office sent a copy of the news release to Gabe Galanda, Traversie's attorney, before it was issued, Briggs said. Jackley said Galanda made several suggestions to change the news release and that he incorporated some but not all of the changes.

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"They probably don't agree with our findings, but they've certainly been given any opportunity to provide us with evidence," he said.

The FBI is currently investigating Traversie's claim under supervision of the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's office, said Ace Crawford, spokeswoman for that office. 

The DCI conducted several interviews jointly with FBI staff, though the two organizations have independent investigations, Jackley said.

In a step toward a first court appearance, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken issued an order Wednesday to Traversie and the defendants in his lawsuit requiring the parties to meet and discuss their claims and "the possibility of a prompt settlement or resolution" by Sept. 7.

Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or ruth.moon@rapidcityjournal.com

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