Court: Tribal kids weren’t targets of hockey game hate

Trace O’Connell, the South Dakota man accused of spilling beer and taunting Native American children at a hockey game in January, has been acquitted of a disorderly conduct charge stemming from the incident.

Fifty-six students from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were at the game when someone started shouting racist remarks and pouring beer from a luxury suite, according to this Facebook post at the time.

O’Connell’s trial this summer was so closely watched, it had to be moved to a performing arts center.

Today, magistrate Eric Strawn found him not guilty (pdf).

He said none of the children were hit by thrown beer bottle caps as alleged, and he said Brendan Poor Bear’s testimony against O’Connell was “unreliable.” He indicated two girls who were alleged to have had beer poured on them, testified they didn’t, even as adults insisted they did.

“Both girls showed great courage in testifying to the truth,” he wrote in today’s decision.

Beer was sprayed during the game, but it was only because the hockey team had scored a goal, the judge said.

He also dismissed testimony that indicated someone in the suite told the kids to “go back to the rez,” but he said the witness was unreliable when she claimed she knew it was O’Connell. He said it was the woman’s inaccurate testimony that led to Justin Poor Bear’s Facebook post.

The trial lasted two days and although the city wanted a jury, the judge didn’t want to pull the kids out of class to testify at a later date, so the summer date was scheduled.

“Obviously, we are disappointed in the decision,” Rapid City Attorney Joel Landeen said in a statement today. “We felt all along the city had a strong case with enough evidence to move forward for conviction. The disorderly conduct charge was the strongest charge the city could bring. We worked with the facts we had and it was a challenging case to administer, with a variety of recollections and perceptions to share from numerous witnesses.”

(h/t: Bob Sinclair)