SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Activists and relatives of a 13-year-old girl who was struck by a police officer trying to break up a fight said Monday the officer’s actions were part of a pattern of using excessive force against Native Americans in South Dakota.
Officer Richard Holt was patrolling at South Middle School in Rapid City last week when the teen and another girl wrestled each other to the ground after school had dismissed. Holt struggled to physically separate the girls, and when they continued to fight, he struck one in the face and then pinned her to the ground.
Police Chief Karl Jegeris said the officer used a “palm-heel strike” to separate the girls, calling the action “appropriate” and necessary to stop the fight. Jegeris said supervisors reviewed the incident by looking at the social media videos, body camera footage and other evidence and determined the use of force was within the department’s policy.
Yolanda Clairmont, an aunt of the girl who was struck and who was speaking on the family’s behalf, told The Associated Press on Monday that the girl had a bloody and bruised nose from the strike and was treated at the hospital. She said it’s the first time her niece was in a fight or had a run-in with the police. The seventh-grader is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
“Had it been a non-Native, I believe the situation would have been handled differently,” Clairmont said.
Police spokesman Brendyn Medina said Holt was responding to an active assault and had no choice but to intervene.
“The race of the individual involved had nothing to do with the response,” Medina said.
United Urban Warriors Society, an activist group in Rapid City, called the incident too familiar.
“This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” James Swan, the group’s founder, said. “Cops have a history of manhandling natives here.”
Community members held a meeting in Rapid City after video from the fight was shared on social media and sparked concern.
The police said the girls were being charged through the juvenile justice system. Family members said the girls were suspended from school and being charged with assault.
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com