Rapid City Journal. July 1, 2022.
Editorial: The people have a right to know
It is time for the people of South Dakota to demand access to public records.
The laws governing access for the public to information about their government and law enforcement agencies are bad. The enforcement of those laws is worse.
The Rapid City Journal recently won a split decision with the South Dakota Supreme Court to get access to court records involving a leader of the State Senate who got his case sealed more than two months early after word of his arrest for driving after drinking a little too much Coke and whiskey reached media outlets.
Even in siding with the Journal and saying that a judge can’t write a memo in mid-December to retroactively seal a case in early October, the justices said they didn’t believe any “government secrecy” was at play in the case.
The Senate Majority Leader got his case sealed simply by sending an email to a friendly state’s attorney and district judge and the state Supreme Court still believes that this favor would have been granted to any member of the public.
But Gary Cammack’s attorney got his case sealed early. In the nine months between our case reaching the supreme court and the decision, Cammack was installed in the South Dakota Hall of Fame and won his primary for his State Senate seat.
Fast forward to 30 days ago when two Rapid City Police officers shot a woman after she continued driving when police tried to stop her. During that chase, a male exited the car and got away. Items were thrown from the vehicle.
The woman was shot multiple times. Her car window was destroyed. There were bullet holes in the passenger side of the car.
Thanks to lax public record laws, we still don’t know the woman’s name. We don’t know if she is alive. We don’t know if she was arrested or charged. We don’t know if her accomplice has been captured or charged.
As a society, we can’t allow government officials to shoot a person and have that information covered up for more than a month.
Of course, the Rapid City Police can’t investigate their own officers, so the state Department of Criminal Investigations took over. There are two officers and one witness/suspect/victim involved. There should be two body cameras and two dash cameras. Honestly, the only reason this investigation should take a week is if the woman who was shot was physically incapable to be interviewed.
Even then, with cameras, interviews with two officers and a load of evidence to corroborate those interviews, it should be pretty straight-forward.
However, the investigation has yielded no publicly available information in 30 days. The impeachment of an attorney general and the appointment of a new one can slow down that officer, but why would DCI not be able to finish its work? According to a state spokesperson, the agency that will sign off on the DCI investigation hasn’t even been chosen.
Once again, information in South Dakota grinds to a halt, but the world keeps turning. Both officers already returned to duty at some level. Surely they would both like to know their fate in the matter, as well.
In November, voters will select candidates to represent them. This is your time make representatives and senators earn your vote. Call on them to commit to better laws regarding public information in order to earn your vote. Make them promise a more efficient and transparent government.
You pay for that. You deserve it.
Citizens have to stop shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads and using their ballots to send people in Pierre who won’t let the state continue to fail when it comes to open and honest government.