It could be June before a Philip man, accused of spilling beer on Native American students during a minor league hockey game, has his day in court.

And when the trial begins, it could be difficult finding jurors who aren't aware of news reports spelling out details of the case, Fourth Circuit Magistrate Judge Eric Strawn said on Wednesday in court.

After an extensive investigation of the January incident by the Rapid City Police Department, city officials cited Trace O'Connell, 41, of Philip, for disorderly conduct.

While about 30 protesters stood outside the Pennington County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon, O'Connell's attorney, Patrick Duffy, was inside entering his client's plea of not guilty. Since the charge is a Class 2 misdemeanor, O'Connell was not required to attend the hearing.

Dozens of students and their chaperones from the American Horse School in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were at the hockey game. At one point late in the game, the students reportedly had beer poured on them and were subjected to racial slurs. 

Strawn advised Duffy and Rapid City Attorney Joel Landeen that he has refrained from reading or watching any media coverage of the incident since the case was assigned to him.

Given the notoriety of the case, Strawn offered to preside at a court trial, if the attorneys are willing to waive a jury trial. 

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"We would probably have to empanel all of Rapid City to find someone who hasn't heard about the case," Strawn said.

Landeen, however, said the judge would have to empanel jurors. Turning to Duffy, Landeen said he is not taking the possibility of jail time "off the table."

Speaking after court, Duffy said he would settle for a court trial if Landeen were not intent on demanding jail time.

Duffy said the result would be "the longest violation-of-a-city-ordinance trial in American history, if we have to empanel a jury."

"This is actually one hell of a story; it just didn't happen," Duffy said.

Both Duffy and Landeen advised Strawn that the trial will take five days. Strawn has scheduled a motion hearing for May 28.

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Contact Andrea J. Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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