Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris said his officers know the identity of at least one person whose conduct was "scorching of your soul" when he insulted and threw beer on a group of Native American students at the Rush hockey game last Saturday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Police Chief Karl Jegeris made the announcement at a press conference that followed a 2 1/2-hour closed-door meeting that included parents of the children, American Horse School officials, Oglala Sioux Tribal representatives, Mayor Sam Kooiker, police and the Pennington County State's Attorney's office.
"We're going to be looking at assault. We're going to look at the hate crimes statutes. We will look at the child abuse statutes. And, we will look at any other relevant statutes," Jergeris said of charges that may be filed against the person or people who participated in the harassment of the students.
American Horse School is in Allen on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The 57 students and seven adults were on a field trip that rewarded students for school achievement. Their trip was cut short in the third period of the game because of the outbursts from a skybox above the section in which the students were sitting.
The skybox is rented to Eagle Sales of the Black Hills, a beer distributorship. Tom Helland, president of the company, has said he was not at the game, although one of his employees was in the suite. The employee, Helland said, was not aware of the harassment and beer tossing.
Helland, who called the incident "devastating to me personally," has apologized to the students.
Jegeris said he learned of the incident on Monday when a Facebook posting was brought to his attention. By Tuesday, detectives were assigned to the case after some of the children's parents called the police.
"It was scorching of your soul. You don't feel right," Jegeris said. "It upsets me greatly."
Jegeris said he thinks police officers have identified the person "who caused the most degree of problem related to being racist and criminal behavior." They have also identified others who may have been involved, he said.
"We have received an initial statement from another possible suspect in this matter," Jegeris said.
Detectives are following up with their investigation and collecting all the facts. Officials then will research statutes that apply to such conduct. Jegeris said his staff will work closely with the State's Attorney's Office to move the case forward to the next step, making sure there is accountability.
Jegeris shared the press conference with Kooiker and Tribal Councilmen Ron Duke and Rich Greenwald. Duke represents the Pass Creek District, which includes Allen.
"All we're asking for is that justice be served," Duke said. "That's what the families are looking for."
Both Duke and Greenwald are former tribal police chiefs. They have offered to act as liaisons between the reservation and Rapid City police.
"The families are expecting justice. In the families' view, there's nothing short of an arrest that needs to be made," said Mato Standing High, an attorney representing parents of four of the children who were victims of the harassment.
Under different circumstances and situations, people would have been arrested on the spot, Standing High said. A crime has taken place and someone needs to be held accountable, he said.
"The children are scared, confused, they're wondering what's going on," Standing High said. "They are the main cog in this process."
The children who were victims in this care are not just Native American children, Standing High said.
"They're your children, too. If you live in South Dakota, these are your children," he said. "It doesn't matter where they live. It doesn't matter what color their skin is. If they live in South Dakota, they are your children, too."