Around 30 protesters gathered outside of the Pennington County Courthouse while O’Connell’s attorney, Patrick Duffy, entered the 41-year-old’s plea. O’Connell was not present.
Duffy claims his client did not throw beer at children from American Horse School or verbalize racist comments towards them, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that points otherwise: “This is actually one hell of a story; it just didn’t happen.” Since news broke of the story, he says, O’Connell has received a number of death threats.
O’Connell’s case is not expected to be presented before a judge until June.
Finding jurors for the trial will be a struggle, considering the popularity of the story and widespread community involvement in the push for justice.
“We would probably have to empanel all of Rapid City to find someone who hasn’t heard about the case,” said Fourth Circuit Magistrate Judge Eric Strawn, who has scheduled a motion hearing for May 28.
Rapid City Attorney Joel Landeen says he has no plans to take the possibility of jail time “off the table,” despite Duffy’s insistence.
The Lakota People’s Law Project remains appalled by the hateful behavior exhibited toward innocent children at what should have been a fun event. However, the incident does shed light on the prevalence of racist attitudes in South Dakota toward Indian people.
If Trace O’Connell is found guilty, his behavior calls for much more than a paltry disorderly conduct charge. The perpetrator of this terrible incident should be charged with a hate crime. To act racist toward any group is repulsive, but to do so against children is particularly disgraceful.
We remain hopeful the affected American Horse School children won’t have to wait much longer to see O’Connell charged.