Incident raises question of racism

Witnesses ask why focus was on Indian youth

Editor's note: Names were eliminated from this story to avoid possible reprisals.
By Jean Roach
Today correspondent

RAPID CITY, S.D. A Lakota Homes youth alleges he was attacked by racially driven teen-agers which escalated into racial clash which triggered what area residents perceive as a stereotypical police investigation of the Indian families involved.

In mid-January, a 17-year-old Lakota youth was inches away from being hit by a car driven by non-Indian teens who were yelling racial slurs. In response to the racial attack, the victim and his neighbors chased the car to a local convenience store.

Two fleeing teens ran into the store where they told clerks shots were fired at them by the victim's or his neighbors. No one else reported hearing any gunshots in the area.

Family members claim the Rapid City Police Department targeted its investigation on the Indian victims instead of the white teens by avoiding the attempted hit and run issue and focusing on a possible attempted murder.

The victim's mother said her son and his friends were treated like the criminals by the police. They searched my son, put him in the back of a police car and then a male police officer searched me and put me in back of a police car, she said. My son is the one who was almost hit by the car and then they try to say he had a gun.

The victim's mother said there was no evidence of any weapon or one being fired and it was the white boys' word over the victim's. At the police station, the mother said detectives told her they were interviewing the victims. It was after the white boys' stories conflicted that they realized her son was the victim she said.

I told them I wanted to press charges on the boys who tried to run my son over, and the detectives just ignored me. She has contacted an attorney in her effort to resolve what she views as an attack on her son.

Police Capt. Craig Tieszen said the case is under investigation, but added, the (white) kids were basically picking a fight. He said that during any early investigation everyone is a suspect and treated as such until things are sorted out. At the time, both sides were pointing at each other.

Tieszen said he never heard any reports of females being searched by male officers. He said generally officers try to do same-sex searches, but he added officers are authorized to perform any search to promote safety.

An aunt of the victim was called at work by Rapid City Police Officer Fred Eisenbraun, the Cop on the Block for the Lakota Homes Community. He asked her to return home because there had been an incident at her house. When she got home an officer told her stop and stand by her car.

They (officers) entered my home with their weapons drawn. No search warrant was presented and she said the police never asked her permission to enter her home.

Tieszen said there was no search warrant, but added he thought a woman gave the officers permission to enter the home though he wasn't there at the time.

Her 18-year-old daughter said she and a male friend were in the basement when police came down with their guns pulled out on them and asked where the gun was. Officers continued to search for suspects or guns after they searched her companion who was taken to the police department for questioning.

As mother and daughter stood by the door waiting for the officers to complete the search, they shared a cigarette. An unidentified officer snatched the cigarette from the daughter's hand and threw it to the ground. He threatened the mother with contributing to the delinquency of a minor charges, but the mother explained that her daughter was 18. She said another officer tried to justify the allegation by stating, tensions are high, tensions are high.

The officers continued to interrogate the women over the whereabouts of the alleged gun. They told us that someone could face an attempted murder charges, said the mother. She said officers were very intimidating and threatening. They never mentioned anything about her nephew who was nearly run down, she said. They kept asking her where her son because they wanted to question him. She told them he doesn't live there.

Tieszen said there is sufficient evidence pointing to a gun being used but would not elaborate.

At a neighbor's house, two doors down, a baby sitter said there were police officers running through her yard, with guns. She said she was home all morning and never heard any gun shots.

The victim said the incident began while he was on a errand for his mother. He was walking when he noticed a car coming down the road. Occupants in the vehicle began shouting racial obscenities at the victim who ran to a friend's house for help. There was no answer and when the victim saw the car turn around, he ran toward a cousin's house. As he crossed the street, the car speeded up and swerved toward him, narrowly missing him.

The victim's quick thinking and movements possibly saved his life. If I would have never moved out of the way I would have been hit by the car, he said, holding his fingers a couple of inches apart. They called me names like (explicative deleted) Indian and told me to go back where I came from and then they shouted out 'White Power.'

The victim recently had a cast removed from his ankle and had been off crutches for less than a week. He aggravated the injury during the incident.

I was never raised to be prejudiced and I couldn't understand why they were saying these things to me. The victim said he had never seen or met the boys in the car before and couldn't think of any reason other than the color of his skin as to why they tried to run him over.

An 18-year-old witness saw his friend, the victim, limping down the street and noticed a car revving up the engine and its occupants yelling obesities at his friend. He said his friend knocked at the door but ran off before he answered.

I got to the door and I could see him crossing the street and that is when they tried to hit him with their car. I grabbed a bat and started running toward the car because I wanted to protect him because he was still limping from a broken ankle.

The victim said he ran in back of the houses because he was afraid the car would try to hit him again if he walked in front. As he neared his cousins' house they were already outside of the house arguing with the teens in the car. The groups exchanged obscenities and the neighbors, in a car, and followed the vehicle to a nearby convenience store.

The individual on duty said non-Indian boys ran into the store claiming that someone was chasing them and shooting at them. She said there was no doubt that they (Indians) were going to cause harm to the boys (non-Indian). I immediately yelled at them (Indians) to get the (explicative deleted) out of the store because she didn't want anything happening in her store.

She added that they (non-Indians) did get gas and the others didn't. The manager stated an Indian boy called her white trash.

I gave him complete eye contact, and yelled at him to get the (explicative deleted) out of my store. She added, I'm not prejudiced. Ask any of my workers. I only wanted to avoid a bad situation.

During the investigation, a roadblock was set up near the area. People who were suspected of having any information were searched and questioned. Two juveniles, a male and female, were searched and the male was taken in for questioning even though he hadn't been near the area. The female alleges she was searched by a male officer.

Tieszen said the investigation should be completed after a couple more interviews. He said the kids (white) who picked the fight will probably be charged.

© 1999 Indian Country Today
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