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Sheriff: demonstrators broke their promise; protester disagrees

Protesters standing on white vans look down on a crowd of fellow demonstrators while under the observation of Pennington County Sheriff's deputies and National Guardsmen. Protest organizers blocked the road leading to Mount Rushmore with the vehicles - two of which had their tires removed to make them difficult to move out of the road.
Protesters standing on white vans look down on a crowd of fellow demonstrators while under the observation of Pennington County Sheriff's deputies and National Guardsmen. Protest organizers blocked the road leading to Mount Rushmore with the vehicles - two of which had their tires removed to make them difficult to move out of the road.(Austin Goss)
Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 12:53 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) -

The Pennington County Sheriff's Office criticized an Indigenous non-profit for allegedly violating mutually agreed upon rules for protests before President Trump's visit to Mount Rushmore.

A New Tone

Sheriff Kevin Thom could not comment directly on the dispute, citing the on-going legal battle between the State’s Attorney Office and protest organizer Nick Tilsen, among multiple other pending cases. However, he admonished certain demonstrators who did not “honor their word.”

The Sheriff’s Office said an attorney representing the event organizers reached out to them prior to the protests, according to a press release sent out Monday.

In the release, Thom said the two organizations discussed how the protest would be conducted. He added the attorney assured him the protest would remain peaceful, and while some protesters may lay in the road, they would not resist arrest.

Thom then said this conversation did not include alleged attempts to block the road to the monument with three vans - two of which were immobilized by protesters. The Sheriff said the group made the decision not to honor their word, and protests did not remain peaceful.

“If they don’t intend to keep their word, don’t reach out to us and have those discussions just so you can say you had those discussions with no intent on keeping your word,” Thom said. “I mean that generally about any group.”

Additionally, Thom said the vans belonged to the demonstrators. Officers eventually had the vans towed away to be processed by authorities.

Future Protests

As a consequence of Tilsen’s alleged involvement in the protests, who is also CEO of NDN Collective, and Thom’s determination that the protests became violent in nature, the Sheriff’s Office will not acknowledge the future protest discussions from the Collective for the foreseeable future.

The Sheriff appreciated the cooperation of what he considered well-intentioned demonstrators, including groups that were eventually deemed “unlawful.”

“I think it’s better for everyone involved - fortunately in this case, no community members, no protesters, no law enforcement were injured - and sometimes, you get into a protest and you can have others hijack that protest ... those that weren’t intended to be part of the original group or some in the group that decided to do their own thing.”

NDN Collective’s Rebuttal

Andrew Iron Shell, a media representative of NDN Collective, disagreed with the arguments of the Sheriff’s Office. He said protesters practiced their First Amendment rights peacefully until they were provoked by law enforcement.

“We don’t bring the violence to protests, the police do,” Iron Shell, who also goes by the surname Boyd, said. “And that’s been proven over and over again. We will continue to stand up as landlords of this territory and continue to exercise our First Amendment rights as Americans.”

Iron Shell put forth an allegation during an interview with a KOTA-TV reporter that he and other protesters heard a law enforcement officer load a live, lethal round into a firearm, which he said instigated fellow protesters into self-defense. We have not been able to independently confirm this claim.

Mending Relations

As it stands now, the bridges have been burned between PCSO and NDN. When we asked the two organizations if they could ever see eye-to-eye in the near future, the results were mixed.

Iron Shell emphasized NDN would not prioritize rebuilding relations with local law enforcement, but instead focus on advocating for their Native American clients.

“It’s not up to NDN to fix things that we haven’t broken,” Iron Shell added. “First and foremost, we’re there for the Native American community of Rapid City and of this country and of this land, and so we’ll show up as our community asks us to show up.”

Iron Shell also suggested PCSO must first work towards fixing outstanding issues affecting the local Indigenous populations.

“Pennington County Sheriff’s Office has a lot to do ... to earn the respect of the Native community around them. We have so many missing and murdered Indigenous people from around the Pennington County, western South Dakota area - why aren’t they speaking to that?”

Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office is willing to accept an olive branch from NDN, but the onus of diplomacy is on the Indigenous group.

“Currently, they don’t have credibility with us. If there’s a way to rebuild that credibility and working relationship ... with regards to future protests, of course, we’re open to that, but it’s incumbent on them to make that step,” Thom finished.

Copyright 2020 KEVN. All rights reserved.

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