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Sturgis police, school district investigating parking-lot assault of student

STURGIS | Meade 46-1 school district and Sturgis police are investigating an assault of a Sturgis Brown High School student after a video of an attack emerged Wednesday on social media.

The six-second clip shows two girls pulling another girl from the driver’s side of the front seat of an SUV.

One of them lands a hard punch to the face of the girl, who crumples to the ground beside the vehicle as other young people are watching or shooting video with their cellphones.

Ursula Ward, mother of the victim, said her daughter was lured Tuesday after school to a parking lot behind the Sturgis Community Center by those she identified as her daughter’s best friends.

Once there, Ward said, her daughter’s vehicle was hemmed in by at least three vehicles before she was yanked out of the vehicle.

Ward said another 30-second video shows her daughter being repeatedly struck and then left on the ground.

She said her daughter came to, drove back to the high school, and called a teammate on a Spearfish club soccer team who would drive to Sturgis to help.

Another parent called Ward, who was working in Eagle Butte, and took the girl to the emergency room at Monument Health Sturgis Hospital for treatment of bruises and a possible concussion.

Ward said she drove to Sturgis as fast as she could and once there flagged down a Sturgis police officer to accompany her to the hospital.

On Wednesday, Sturgis police issued a statement about the incident on social media.

“The Sturgis Police Department is aware of a video being shared around social media of an assault. We are currently investigating the incident. This is an ongoing investigation and it involves juveniles so we will not be releasing any details,” the post said.

On Wednesday, Ward said her daughter is scared, unable to sleep, and “heartbroken, confused and betrayed.”

“She’s just really, really distraught because these were her friends,” Ward said. “This was planned for several days.”

Ward said she has some ideas but is not certain why her daughter was assaulted.

“Some of it involved some friends who were jealous of each other. Some of it involved a boy,” she said. “Other than that, I’m really not sure.”

Ward said she and others who came to her daughter’s aid received threats Wednesday via text and on social media, warning them not to go public with the story.

Ward said her daughter does not want to return to Brown High School. So, she now is weighing educational options for the daughter, including home-schooling or attending a different high school.

On Wednesday morning, Ward met with Sturgis Brown High School officials, among them Principal Pete Wilson and Superintendent Jeff Simmons.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that after much prodding and with such outcry and friend support that the principal, superintendent and staff are going to make an effort to make sure something is done about this,” she said.

Simmons said viewing a video of the assault “hurts my heart.”

“My reaction was simply, ‘how sad,’” he said. “It’s always disturbing to see our young people out of control and hurting people.”

Simmons said the school district also is weathering a social media firestorm.

“I’m sure that the public may have different opinions based on what they saw, but what they saw may not be the entire situation,” he said.

The superintendent also said the school district is conducting an investigation and “we’ll make decisions based on what we learn.”

“We need to slow down and make sure we make decisions based on evidence and facts, look into the future and make sure we don’t make a situation worse with a knee-jerk reaction,” he told the Journal.

Simmons also expects the incident will ripple through the school.

“To think that something happened off school grounds like this and we could just wash our hands of it would be very naïve of us and irresponsible,” he said. “Simply because those students will show up at our school and bring their emotions with them.

Ward said bullying is pervasive in the Sturgis school system.

She said her daughter was also bullied in middle school and lost a couple of friends to suicide because of bullying.

“That’s part of the reason we decided to not just cover this up,” she said.


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Central continues Superior streak
Central continues Superior streak

Rapid City Central High School's Theatre Department is doing things that no South Dakota group has ever done.

For the 16th consecutive year, Justin Speck and Joey Lore collaborated with their drama department and wrote an original play. After months of rehearsal, the group received its 16th consecutive Superior Play Award at the South Dakota High School Activities Association One Act Play Festival.

Douglas and Spearfish drama groups also won Superior Show awards at this year's festival.

Speck and Lore didn't set out to create their own show from scratch 16 years ago. Lore had been in the Language Arts Department for a year when the drama teacher retired. Speck was an alumnus of the Central drama program. After returning from New York City six months after the 9/11 attacks, Speck received a call from Pat Jones, a childhood friend from their time together at Robbinsdale Elementary School, who was the Central principal at the time. He asked Speck to come back and take on the role.

"I had let my license lapse," Speck said. "After we worked out the details, I joined the department."

When the one-act play competition planning began that first year, they hoped to stage a version of "Once Upon a Mattress," but they couldn't get permission to use it in the one-act format so they went to Plan B. Siting in a room with a group of students, they began to brainstorm. One of the big ideas to come out of that original session was to write their own play. After the success of the collaboration with students and the production that first year, they have never returned to scripted plays.

"We have considered it," Lore said. "But when the time comes, we have decided to create our own."

Lore said some years are more difficult than others, but the piece always comes together.

Speck said you have to trust the process.

"You have to put your faith in the process and the kids' creativity," he said. "Sometimes it comes together sooner. Sometimes it is closer to the last minute."

Lore said when they consider changing to a scripted piece, one fact always stands out.

"This was our 16th year," he said. "But for many of these students, it was their first year. We take that fresh energy and it is still exciting to do this original work. It is exhausting. But the infusion of energy you get from the young people replenishes you very quickly."

He said the process begins every year when Speck gets the group together when the writing begins and they go through a process of see, think, and feel.

"What do you want the audience to see? What do you want them to think? What do you want them to feel?" Lore said. "They fill up the whiteboard with what they are thinking and everyone is part of that process."

Speck said they always remind the current students that they need to appreciate the students who have come before and started the legacy that they continue today.

But Central isn't the only theater program in the area that enjoys success.

Kevin Plooster has led the Douglas drama department for 28 years.

In those years, about half of the time the group wins a Superior Show award and the entire cast has won Superior Ensemble many times as well.

"We work really hard even though our school isn't as big as a lot of the AAs," Plooster said. "We are able to achieve success."

This year, his group used a published script.

"I truly enjoy working with high school students," he said. "I like to push them to expand their boundaries to understand the world."

He said drama allows him to do that because it allows students to express themselves in ways that they wouldn't in the classroom. State one acts normally take around 20-22 including the cast and crew. When he first arrived at Douglas they had nine people in theater and now they have between 30 and 50 for shows. 

"So much of drama is academically based because you are interpreting literature and expanding horizons on emotions and understanding, because you have to understand the world around you to play the characters and scenes," Plooster said. "It isn't like learning a skill and plays and strategy on a field. We have to focus on physicality, vocalization, memorization and interpretation. There are so many parts to making a scene work."

Not only did Central and Douglas win Superior Play Awards, both schools won Superior Ensembles. For Douglas, the ensemble consisted of Maiya Timm, Lily Militello, Austin Hayes, Brennan Ackerman, Brock Murphy, Alissa Wieman, Gaven Williams, Brayden Schuelke, Alexandria Robinson, Brooklyn Wickersham, Riley Perry, Grace Huetson, and Caley Murphy.

Rapid City Central's Ensemble included Aliya Thompson, Jackson Becker, Gunnar Benson, Kati Buell, Trent Counsellor, Hidie Dahl, Alec Doyle, Mitchell Emory, Drake Heizelman, Aaron Iverson, Jonas Killian, Sammie Kross, Drew Kuske, Gretchen Lindenberg, Henry London, Ethan Mann, Cloe McNaboe, Brooke Parette, Olivia Perli, Brady Riker, Quincy Warren, Taviona Wilson, and Lucy Woods.

Douglas also had three individuals win Superior Performer Awards. They were Skylar Archer, Tierra Flesner, and Victor Collins. Rapid City Stevens didn't win superior play or ensemble, but five individuals from Stevens received Superior Performer Awards. They were Kelbie Powers, Rebecca Rudge, Jordan Hagel, Kady Nankivel and Mackenzie Layson.


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Rapid City Regional Airport approves $212,000 marketing agreement

Rapid City Regional Airport set a record in passenger service for 2019, with 705,128 passengers flying to and from the Black Hills.

Airport Executive Director Patrick Dame said Tuesday that much of that was because of a broader marketing strategy by the airport in new destinations that offer direct flights to Rapid City. He said the change in the airport's marketing strategy is impactful, and other tourism-related organizations in South Dakota are paying attention to the city's strategy.

"People are starting to watch us and what it is we are doing," Dame said. "Deadwood has been very interested in what we are doing. We have a good relationship with (Tourism Secretary James Hagen) and his staff, as well as a great relationship with our own local tourism folks here. Everybody is looking to play together."

With the growth in flights, the Airport Board of Directors approved a $212,000 annual agreement Tuesday with Lawrence & Schiller, a Sioux Falls-based marketing agency, that will continue its partnership with Rapid City Regional Airport.

During a presentation Tuesday, representatives from Lawrence & Schiller outlined four priority areas across the country where Rapid City Regional Airport will be marketed as a go-to destination.

The first priority areas will be Los Angeles and San Francisco, where air travel opportunities continue to grow, with direct flights during the peak tourist season.

The second area of focus will be air travelers in Charlotte, N.C., and Newark, N.J. The third priority will be travelers who go through Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where flight service to and from Rapid City continues to grow.

The fourth priority markets are Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Phoenix. Dame said the reason these four areas are a lower priority is because there are already multiple marketing programs through tourism partners, like the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Visit Rapid City.

The enhanced marketing efforts in the priority markets will include visual advertising, key travel-related internet sites, social media and video platforms.


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House committee approves new riot-boosting legislation

PIERRE | Native American groups opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline told South Dakota lawmakers Wednesday that Gov. Kristi Noem's plan to restore criminal penalties for encouraging riots would result in peaceful protesters being silenced.

The Republican governor proposed updates to the so-called riot-boosting laws after a judge struck down efforts last year to allow the state and counties to prosecute disruptive demonstrations against the pipeline. Several Indian tribes in the state opposed the bill, putting a strain on the governor's relationship with the tribes.

The new proposal sailed through a House committee on Wednesday, as Native American groups testified, prayed and protested at the Capitol.

The bill would update definitions of rioting and “incitement to riot” that are on the books and allow government entities to seek civil fines against people who “urge, instigate, incite, or direct” groups of three or more to using force or violence. The state agreed not to enforce parts of those laws in October as part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Republican governor argues that the proposed laws are designed to protect people's rights to protest peacefully and even includes language to make that clear. She has said the civil penalties would keep taxpayers from having to pay for damage caused by riots.

Lester Thompson, the chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, said the First Amendment already protects a person's right to protest. He said the law would put protesters in a defensive position, vulnerable to laws that do not make it clear what constitutes violence during a riot.

“It could be me raising my fist," said Derrick Marks, a committee member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. “Is that considered riot boosting? Is that considered violence?”

Katie Hruska, a lawyer with the governor's office, told the committee, “There is nothing in this bill that targets protests or criminalize protests in any way.”

One of the reasons the judge found parts of a “riot boosting” law passed last year to be unconstitutional was because it was created in response to potential demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline. The governor's office has said that this is not the case this year.

Republicans on the House State Affairs committee almost all agreed that the law was necessary. Two Democrats and one Republican voted against the bill. It will next be considered by the Republican-dominated House.

Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, broke with his party to oppose the bill. He called last year's riot boosting laws “a significant mess.” The bills were passed by the Legislature last year three days after Noem introduced it. The state later had to pay $145,000 in legal fees to the ACLU as part of its legal settlement.

Haugaard said the proposal also puts “unnecessary strain” on the relationship between the state and Native Americans who feel targeted by the bill.

Candi Brings Plenty, a lobbyist for the ACLU and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said the bill “perpetuates the oppression” against Native American people and attempts to silence their protests. She pointed to the history of government actions that have abused Native American people. She organized a prayer and demonstration on the grounds of the Capitol before the committee meeting.

Spencer Gosch, a Republican from Glenham, said, “I don't want to make this a race thing. This is not what this is.”

Noem has attempted to repair her relationship with tribes in the state after they opposed last year's riot boosting laws. She held a meeting with representatives from some of the tribes just before the session began to discuss pending legislation. She also opened drafts of this year's riot boosting legislation up to comment from the tribes. Five tribes — the Rosebud Sioux, Crow Creek Sioux, Yankton Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, and Oglala Sioux — responded by saying they oppose the bill.

Noem has said she thinks the tribes are opposed to the riot-boosting bill because they would not support anything to do with Keystone XL. She has tried to build bridges in other areas and scheduled a press conference shortly after the riot-boosting committee meeting to announce the creation of a new student art competition that she said would support Native American art in the state.