MILLER, S.D. ? Two juveniles face felony charges in connection with gunshots fired toward a group of Crow Creek Sioux Tribal School basketball players and fans as they were driving home from a Nov. 1 game outside this rural central South Dakota community.
Hand County States Attorney James Jones said his office filed petitions against two boys under the age of 16, each including six counts of aggravated assault ? a class three felony, in connection with the incident.
He said the charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $15,000 for fine for each count if they are prosecuted as adults.
The two youths will first appear in juvenile court before the matter can be transferred to circuit court. Jones said he filed to transfer the charges to circuit court where the two will be tried as adults for the crime. A hearing has been set for 10 a.m. Dec. 3 in Miller.
The teens were arrested after a gun was discharged during a three-car chase after a pickup carrying three Crow Creek girls’ basketball players and three fans on their way on a rural South Dakota highway outside of Miller.
The girls left earlier than their teammates on the bus. As their vehicle pulled onto a four-lane highway, a car with several white teen-age boys inside passed with occupants shouting obscenities, making derogatory statements and lewd hand gestures toward the girls.
In retaliation, one of the girls threw an ice cream drink out of the window at the car.
That set off a three-car chase with one car passing the pickup carrying the girls. The driver of the car hit the brakes and the passenger pulled out a shotgun, firing four times, accounts of girls and their parents show.
The teen accused of discharging the firearm told law enforcement officials he only fired once. Police later recovered a gun and one shotgun shell.
The case is being watched closely by American Indian groups across the nation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Jennifer Ring, ACLU director for the Dakota, said her office has been monitoring the case but is satisfied things are moving in the system at an appropriate speed with the investigation.
“We’re watching it. There isn’t anything for us to do at this point. If it appears the police are not investigating, then we would step in,” Ring said.
While the girls were victims of racial slurs and the object of a three-car chase, Ring said they too, could have been charged with battery for throwing the ice cream drink.
However, Jones said he wouldn’t even consider charging the girls with an offense because it was clear the most serious offense involved the firing of a shotgun.
Many tribal members expressed anger about the delay in arrests and prosecution, but Jones said law enforcement has moved swiftly to interview the victims and the suspects.
Three of the six victims have left the area. One returned to her home in Minneapolis, one returned to Pine Ridge and another has returned to Sisseton. It’s unknown when or if they’ll return to school.
Hand County law enforcement officials continue to research the crime and interview witnesses to determine if the actions of the teens fall under the hate crimes statute.
But Jones said the hate crime charge is a lesser offense than the counts of aggravated assault. Hates crimes in South Dakota are punishable by a maximum of only two years in jail and a $2,000 fine for each count, he said.
He said civil remedies could still be considered under the hate crimes statutes.
Jones said the people in Miller were embarrassed and angry at the teens and consider heir acts as tarnishing the reputation of a town that rarely knows racial unrest.
While critics have said Jones was inexperienced at prosecuting hate crimes, he noted there have been few such incidents because his county is one of the 10 most homogenous counties in the nation whose inhabitants are white.
Jake Thompson, vice chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, said one of the players was his niece. Thompson called on his way to a conference with BIA superintendents and the United Sioux Tribes and said the tribal leadership would be considering a resolution concerning the incident.