Sheriff Thom says Keystone protestors have “no credibility with this office” after events, Friday
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Pennington County’s Sheriff and Rapid City’s Mayor both denouncing the “unlawful” protest in Keystone in response to President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore for a fireworks celebration.
Sheriff Kevin Thom, Tuesday, shared his own versions of events leading up to the protests starting with a conversation between himself and the organizers’ lawyer.
The agreement was that protesters would be in the area of Highway 244 and Iron Mountain Road in Keystone. It was to be a peaceful protest, and though some may lay in the road, they were willing to be arrested. However, that changed sometime after the protest began, as the crowd walked on the highway, through town and then blocked the roadway along Highway 16A which guests to the fireworks were attempting to access.
“They didn’t keep their word, and if you don’t honor your word it’s hard to have a working relationship going forward.” said Thom. “Once crowds moved into all four lanes of the roadway we knew at that point that what we had discussed was not being upheld.”
A source to NewsCenter1 says the lawyer represents NDN Collective, an indigenous rights group working in activism in Rapid City. The lawyer, Bruce Ellison, is also representing NDN’s President and C.E.O. Nick Tilsen, who is still facing felony charges after being arrested for robbery on July 3.
150 people were in attendance and 21 people were arrested. Thom says majority of them were processed and let out of the jail by Saturday. Tilsen being the only one let out Monday and the only one to be charged with a felony. The majority of charges were for disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.
But Sheriff Thom says he expects more arrests as the investigation continues. He says after events such as the Keystone protest the agency typically sits down and evaluates how they responded and what can be done better.
“I would like to say that we prefer when groups engage with us on the front side, and so that part was good,” Thom said. “We liked the engagement on the front side so we do have a lawful and peaceful protest and we want to make sure we’re protecting their First Amendment rights, we support it, we just want to do it safely.”
Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender also responded, Wednesday, to the protest.
“A protest is no longer peaceful when roads are being blocked. And when those folks refuse to disperse and are ordered to do so by law enforcement. That is no longer a peaceful demonstration, period.” Allender said.
He too stated his support and the need to protect freedom of speech.
Thom says he is grateful for the professionalism of law enforcement and thankful no one was hurt.
“This, it’s not to discourage other groups or this group from coming back to the table and doing it the right way.” he said.