South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Zachary Bader wants to get back to work.
Bader, the trooper who was badly injured in an attack following a drug-related traffic stop last year, is asking for his belongings to be released from evidence as he prepares to return to work by month’s end.
In a Rapid City courtroom on Thursday, Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo told Seventh Circuit Judge Wally Eklund that Bader has asked for the return of his personal items, including his badge holder and a letter from his daughter.
The items are being held as evidence in a criminal case almost a year after the Oct. 24, 2015, incident. According to authorities, Bader was assaulted after he stopped a Suburban carrying four people along Interstate 90, in Pennington County, and discovered drugs in the vehicle.
Bader, a Hot Springs native, suffered serious injuries, including facial fractures.
Three of the vehicle’s occupants have since pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and being an accessory to a crime. In a deal with prosecutors, they agreed to testify against the other passenger who is accused of beating up Bader.
Donald Willingham, 34, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana and commission of a felony with a firearm. The Renton, Wash., resident faces maximum penalties of five to 25 years in prison on the various offenses.
On Thursday, the court conducted its second hearing on Willingham’s request to throw out statements he made to authorities. The defense argues they were obtained in violation of his rights. Lawyers for both sides are scheduled to discuss the issue again in court in October.
Willingham’s lawyers did not oppose the prosecution's request to release Bader’s personal belongings.
The letter from Bader’s daughter is a memento the trooper carries around with him, deputy state’s attorney Joshua Hendrickson told the Journal. Official property of the highway patrol, such as Bader’s gun and holster, will remain filed as evidence, Hendrickson said.
Vargo said at the hearing that the prosecution opposed Willingham’s request for a change in trial venue, describing it as premature at this point.
Willingham asked the court in July to move his trial out of Pennington County, saying local publicity has prejudiced the county jury pool.
The court will take up the matter after it rules on whether to allow the suppression of Willingham’s statements to authorities.
The Department of Public Safety, which encompasses the South Dakota Highway Patrol, declined to comment on Bader’s return to work. Bader is stationed in Rapid City and has been with the highway patrol for a decade, according to a previous DPS press release.
Willingham is detained at the Pennington County Jail on a $5 million bond, while the other defendants are out on bail.