RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - The trial of a South Dakota man accused of harassing American Indian children with racial slurs and spilling beer on them at a hockey game ended Thursday but a judge said he won’t issue a decision for several weeks.
Trace O’Connell pleaded not guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in Rapid City. The January incident spurred protests by Native Americans in South Dakota’s second-largest city, with critics saying the charge was too lenient.
Magistrate Judge Eric Strawn said Thursday that it may take three to four weeks before he reaches a decision in the case. He said he recognizes the importance of the trial to everyone involved and will write a lengthy decision.
O’Connell was among about 20 people in a suite at the hockey game. Seated directly below the suite was a group of 50 students and seven adult chaperons from American Horse School, which is in the town of Allen on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The trial ended quickly after Michael Butler, O’Connell’s attorney, called no witnesses, and both sides proceeded to closing arguments. City Attorney Joel Landeen called 12 witnesses Wednesday.
Butler argued Thursday the city is trying to hold his client accountable for the actions of the entire group he was with. He said there is no evidence that shows O’Connell spoke to a single child in the group.
Landeen told the court that O’Connell did spray beer, that it was not an accident and that, at minimum, it was reckless.
Activists have protested the leniency of O’Connell’s disorderly conduct charge under city code. The judge’s decision to remove the possibility of jail time as a penalty also spurred anger from activists. Without jail time the maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500.
Supporters of the American Indian students said they weren’t happy with how the trial played out and criticized the prosecution.
“The public certainly doesn’t feel that any justice has been served and ... it would be appropriate to either call a mistrial or to have a re-hearing with an independent prosecutor because we just don’t feel that justice has been served,” Chase Iron Eyes, a Native American attorney and advocate from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, told KOTA-TV.