Att. Gen. Mark Vargo announces new hires for Human Trafficking and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons coordinators

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Mark Vargo, attorney general of South Dakota, announced Wednesday who are filling the roles of the state’s Human Trafficking Coordinator and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Coordinator.

They are Mary Beth Holzwarth and Allison Morrisette, respectively.

When Vargo shared this information at the Public Safety Building in Rapid City, State Representative Peri Pourier, (D) District 27, was there as well.

Vargo says the Red Ribbon Skirt Society did work that brought the issues of missing and murdered indigenous women to light and Representative Pourier submitted a house bill to ensure the positions were created.

Mark Vargo

Mark Vargo, Attorney General of South Dakota, speaks during the announcement of the two new state coordinators at the Public Safety Building in Rapid City, Wednesday, Nov. 30. (Mackenzie Dahlberg, NewsCenter1)

Legislation that established the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons

House Bill 1199 established the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) which Representative Pourier was the prime sponsor for.

It was first ready February 2, 2021 and it was signed by Governor Kristi Noem March 25, 2021.

This bill states that the Office of Attorney General establishes the MMIP “to assist with and provide training for locating missing or murdered indigenous persons.” The MMIP will be staffed with a full-time missing person specialist. This office will work with the Unites States Attorney’s Office, the United States Department of Justice, state law enforcement agencies, and tribal law enforcement agencies.

Morrisette’s Background

Allison Morrisette

Allison Morrisette, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Coordinator, speaks during the announcement of the two new state coordinators at the Public Safety Building in Rapid City, Wednesday, Nov. 30. (Mackenzie Dahlberg, NewsCenter1)

Morrisette previously worked as Adult Diversion Coordinator for the Pennington County State’s Attorney.

She says that she hopes to capitalize off the past relationships she’s built and within the native communities and across the state.

She started her job as South Dakota’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Coordinator on Monday, Nov. 28.

Holzwarth’s Background

Mary Beth Holzwarth

Mary Beth Holzwarth, Human Trafficking Coordinator, speaks during the announcement of the two new state coordinators at the Public Safety Building in Rapid City, Wednesday, Nov. 30. (Mackenzie Dahlberg, NewsCenter1)

For 13 years, Holzwarth worked as the CEO of Endeavor 52 which is a grassroot organization dedicated to child sexual assault prevention.

She also began her job as the state’s Human Trafficking Coordinator on Nov. 28.

New job position

With these being new positions, what they will be doing day-to-day isn’t known quite yet. They will mainly start with connecting with people to get a better idea of what they should do.

“At this point, I really want to just know what other people are doing, And also what they feel needs to be done, where those gaps are. So we know exactly what to start addressing as we move forward. That’s my biggest focus. I just really want to get out there and listen to those who are already actively involved in this work,” Holzwarth said.

One of my main goals is to get everybody connected. And so when somebody does go missing, the information gets there accurately and in an appropriate time, and to see if that will help. And I want the community to know that if they have questions or concerns, I want to be accessible to them. I’m always open to ideas and I want to learn what they already know,” Morrisette said.

Why the jobs were created

“Part of the intent of when this position was created was to bridge the gaps over the several different jurisdictions within South Dakota, especially on our tribal reservations,” Pourier said. “On tribal lands, there’s so many different loopholes and there’s different jurisdictional lines that a lot of cases fall within the cracks. Many times, families don’t know how to navigate such complications. ‘Who do I go to? What happens next?’ A lot of these cases, they may get an initial report, and then it’s dead in the water, and then we’re left with no answers, with no communication.”

Peri Pourier

State Rep. Peri Pourier, (D) District 27, speaks during the announcement of the two new state coordinators at the Public Safety Building in Rapid City, Wednesday, Nov. 30. (Mackenzie Dahlberg, NewsCenter1)

“The federal government already has their office that are looking into this issue. The tribes are working on stepping up into this issues as well. This is to bring the state to the table. What resources we as South Dakota has is the land of plenty when it comes to resources, especially in law enforcement. We all need more, right? There’s always going to be cases where we need each other. Sharing, not only our networks, but our resources and how we can facilitates finding answers to those hard questions. That’s kind of the intent of it is bringing everybody together, trying to find and bridge the gaps between jurisdictions.”

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News