Community members protest O’Connell’s verdict

The man accused of harassing Native American children with racial slurs and spilling beer on them at a Rapid City Rush Hockey game has been cleared. 

Magistrate Judge Eric Strawn acquitted 41-year-old Trace O’Connell, Tuesday morning. O'Connell pleaded not guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in the January incident that spurred protests by people who believed the charge was too lenient. In July, Strawn oversaw O'Connell's two-day trial, which drew as many as 250 spectators.

It’s a case many have been following since January, and many in the community brought their emotions to the surface. Residents say the verdict of O'Connell was unfair, but others say they’re not surprised. “Things wrongly happened to them at the Civic Center and we're out here today to represent them and protect them because our children are sacred,” says Tyler One Horn.

Opening a wound for parents and children at the heart of this case, a handful of people voiced their opinions in front of City Hall, grabbing the attention of Mayor Steve Allender. “This is a traumatic event for many of these individuals, and it's a low point in our community history to have this type of incident at the Civic Center and national exposure,” says Allender.

Allender shook hands and even hugged community members, making future plans to meet again and continue discussions surrounding race relations in Rapid City. “I’m willing to sit down and visit, extend a hand and see what can be done to work together,” says Allender.