By John D. Taylor
HOT SPRINGS - Fall River County has a new Deputy State’s Atorney: Brian Aherndt.
Aherndt was ensconced as the new deputy state’s attorney following State’s Attorney Jim Sword’s firing of former Deputy State’s Attorney Patrick Ginsbach on Nov. 7.
According to Ginsbach, Sword believed Ginsbach didn’t like how the state’s attorney office was being run, since Ginsbach was Sword’s challenger in the recent election.
Republican Sword won 1,963 votes, or 58.7 percent of the total Fall River County votes, handily defeating Democrat challenger Ginsbach, with 1,381 votes, 41.3 percent of the total.
Sword terminated Ginsbach on Nov. 7, the day before the election.
In a letter to Ginsbach, Sword wrote that when Ginsbach took out his petition to run against him, he expected him to resign. He also wrote that Ginsbach never discussed his intention to run against Sword with him.
“We obviously disagree on how the office should be run,” Sword wrote, ending Ginsbach’s appointment as deputy state’s attorney.
Aherndt, Sword said, asking the commissioners to appoint Aherndt as his deputy, has 20 year’s service as a prosecutor, and has presented cases in federal, state and local courts.
Aherndt is also a member of Sword’s new private law practice in Hot Springs.
The commissioners wondered how Aherndt would be compensated. Sword said he would be considered as part-time with the county, while Commissioner Mike Ortner wanted Aherndt to be on a contractual basis, filling out the remainder of Ginsbach’s term.
This was satisfactory with Sword, who said Aherndt would be handling the criminal end of the deputy state’s attorney role, while Sword would cover the civil cases.
Sword wanted to revisit with the commissioners how Aherndt would be compensated after the first of the year.
After Edgemont Mayor Carl Shaw complained about how the Fall River County sheriff’s office was not, in his opinion, fulfilling its duties to police the city, a group of about a dozen people came to the commissioners to say they were happy with the sheriff’s handling of Edgemont.
In October, Shaw claimed Edgemont was “not happy” with the sheriff’s department and cited a lack of contact between the deputies patrolling the city and his government, how deputies are rarely seen patrolling the city, how they don’t help enforce city ordinances, and other concerns. Shaw specifically cited how a $12,000 vandalism incident at Cactus Hills, a retirement community, had irritated citizens.
On Thursday, Nov. 3, Fall River County Sheriff Bob Evans met with Shaw, city council members and others to try to iron out their issues with the sheriff’s department. He told the commissioners that none of the issues that were raised at this meeting seemed impossible to overcome with some extra effort on his department’s part, including having one of his deputies – currently wrapping up a training session at the state police academy – focusing on Edgemont.
Evans said that enforcing city ordinances, more community policing, letting city hall know of the sheriff’s presence in Edgemont should be a “simple fix,” especially after his deputy is finished training on Nov. 18 and his staff is back up to full force.
About 10 citizens from Edgemont said they supported Evans and the sheriff’s department and were very happy with things as they stood. Linda Kluender of Edgemont had a list of 55 signatures offering support to the sheriff’s department, and said the community appreciated the sheriff’s department, were in support of negotiations to maintain the current contract between the city and the sheriff’s department.
One Edgemont resident said that Edgemont is not unhappy with the current contract, but suggested that Shaw was unhappy with the contract, himself, and that he had a control issue.
Lois Stewart said she had no problem with the sheriff’s department.
Karen White, of the Gun Vault in Edgemont, said city businesses had no problem and they were pleased with the sheriff’s department. White saw increased traffic from deputies, talked with deputies often, and felt the deputies were open to suggestions from citizens. “We’re pleased with the changes and the new coverage,” she said.
Shaw said his only current issue, since talking with Evans, was money. He compared Edgemont’s sheriff’s department contract with other Southern Hills towns, and with Dawes County rates, and this concerned him. The Cactus Hills investigation – still unresolved – is a “private issue” between himself and Evans, he said.
Edgemont city council member Carla Schepler voiced an opposite opinion of many present. She said she was concerned about the contract, like Shaw. She noted that before the October discussion with the county, she hadn’t seen much sheriff’s department presence in town. After October, things changed.
Before the sheriff’s department patrolled Edgemont, when the community had its own police, Schepler noted, there was a presence in the community – police would show up at football games, walk through the community, and paid more attention to things.
“All I want is that contract (between the community and the sheriff’s department),” she said. “We should tweak it, make it up to date. I want it to protect our kids and old people, that’s all I’m asking for. I’ll do anything it takes to keep a deputy in town who is out and about.”
Commissioner Joe Falkenburg said he’d received some calls about this issue, and urged Evans to work on better communications with the city.
“I’d like to see the law continue in Edgemont,” he said, “help ranchers with rustlers and trespassing.”
Flint Hills trust lands
For several months now, the Oglala Sioux tribe, who owns Flint Hills land adjoining the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary/ Institute of Range & the American Mustang (IRAM) ground between Edgemont and Hot Springs, has been trying to get this land in a trust status and declare in agricultural for tax purposes, as opposed to its current non-agricultural designation. IRAM leases this ground from the Oglala Sioux tribe (OST) to run horses on it.
The county wants a copy of the lease between IRAM and OST before it will grant the trust status and change the land over to agriculture.
OST tribal attorney Mark Van Norman came to the commissioners with tribal members Cleve Many Horses of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Michael His Many Horses to talk about the status of this change.
The commissioners were concerned about how the land would be used, who would fight fires on the land, and the loss of the $1,800 in tax money the land currently generated in real estate taxes.
Van Norman told the commissioners that the Mustang Ranch and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), landowners adjacent to the 1,200-acre OST/IRAM tract, insisted that the land be fenced – a $145,000 project, because the fence would cover a portion of extremely steep terrain not currently fenced – prior to leasing it. The ranch wanted to keep IRAM horses off it pastures, and the USFS insists on fences as a boundary between private land and National Forest acreage.
OST sought and received $25,000 from BIA to do this, and will use this money as a match to the $120,000 the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will kick in to complete the fencing.
Many Horses said BIA would offer a firefighting agreement with the county that recoups expenses local firefighters might have in battling a blaze on this steep ground.
Michael His Many Horses noted that the land might be used for native ceremony because the Oglala are a spiritual people who hold land sacred and respect it, and that spiritual and sacred cultural artifacts were known to exist on the property, and they remained there because this land was very inaccessible.
As far as the tax issue went, His Many Horses said that the Oglala tribe had not entered into a tax agreement as a county with the state of South Dakota, only a name change. Had the tribe done so, this would have cost the state millions of dollars because then the state would be obligated to offer the Oglala everything other counties have, including government offices, a courthouse, a Department of Social Services and other entities. The Oglala have remained unorganized and have saved the state much money he said, and the commissioners were worried about $1,800 from taxes? “Excuse me,” he said, “but our people shop here in Hot Springs daily,” and he cited other ways the tribe spends money in the county.
The commissioners refused to budge until they had the lease agreement, however. So Van Norman said he would return when the tribe had its lease agreement with IRAM.
In other busisness, the commissioners took action or learned about the following:
Battle Mountain Road
Asked to investigate the costs of repairing the road to the county’s emergency communications and dispatch towers on Battle Mountain because a tanker delivering propane to a backup generator couldn’t make it up the road, Highway Superintendent Randy Seiler told the commissioners that it would take $5,000 to fix the road.
Seiler said a grader would be required, and that Mike Hicks could do this work – but there was a time issue because Hicks would be going in for surgery soon.
Seiler also didn’t think the county should pay for this work, because Verizon, not Golden West Communications, owned other towers at the top of the mountain.
According to Commissioner-elect Paul Nabholz, who owns property on the mountain, the federal government really owns the land, and that it had an agreement with the city of Hot Springs to maintain the road to the towers.
The commissioners decided to repair the road and send the bill to the Verizon and Golden West.
Domestic Violence Institute conference
State’s Attorney Legal Assistant Nancy Whiting attended this conference in Brookings in October and shared what she learned at the conference with the commissioners.
After thanking them for the opportunity to go on behalf of the county, Whiting talked about attending four events and three sessions of the conference that taught her ways to be more helpful in the state’s attorney office in dealing with people who had suffered from domestic violence.
One thing she noted was learning about ways to talk to those who had suffered domestic violence, and garnering useful court testimony, which can sometimes hinge on something as simple asking the person what they want to be called, a victim, a survivor or simply by their name in court.
Another issue Whiting pointed out was the growing problem of “sexploitation.” This occurs online when someone who grooms a child into doing what that person wants them to do over a period of time asks a child for sexually explicit photos or videos of the child, then uses these images to extort more images or other things from the child. Whiting said in one case, the extortionist had more than 900 victims sending that person photos. This has led to suicides, and other issues among teens and other children, she said.
“It’s really horrifying,” she noted.