Don’t tell senators to vote yes ‘if you want to end up dead’

A Piedmont man is facing charges for allegedly threatening Sen. Tim Johnson.

According to the FBI, Jonathan Constantine wrote on the senator’s Facebook page:

“I’m giving you a last warning tim. Stop supporting gun control. It will be the last thing you ever do. If you want to end up dead somewhere just keep supporting it.” 

He’s also accused of showing up at Johnson’s Rapid City office and yelling at staffers. According to the affidavit, Constantine declined an interview with the FBI but told them the post “was not intended to be a threat.”

On Saturday the FBI arrested Constantine, and charged him with “using interstate communications to make a threat to injure.”

Read the story from Josh Verges here.

Johnson voted for expanded background checks and limits on magazine size in recent Senate votes, but voted against a ban on assault weapons.

'Good Samaritan' bill passes Senate committee; House is obstacle

So far it’s the same script for efforts to pass a “Good Samaritan” bill protecting underage drinkers who provide medical assistance to friends in need.

The bill passed a Senate committee 6-1 Tuesday despite opposition from law enforcement and prosecutors. But the Senate has proven no challenge for similar bills in the past. It’s the House where “Good Samaritan” bills go to die.

On Tuesday, Sen. Larry Tidemann and student leaders from South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota argued that giving limited protection from underage drinking charges would encourage students to provide assistance and possibly save lives.

"This bill does not endorse binge drinking, it does not endorse the thought that we want people to consume alcohol," Tidemann said. "When somebody gets hurt and everybody runs away and that person’s life is lost, that’s what we’re trying to prevent."

Opponents said the measure, Senate Bill 132, would encourage underage drinking by providing a way for people to avoid the legal consequences. They worried those underage drinkers would find loopholes in the bill even when no one was facing a medical emergency.

"The point is, should we establish policy in South Dakota… that recognizes and grants immunity for conduct that you have all said, by policy of the Legislature is illegal," said Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association. "I think that’s the wrong road."

The committee voted 6-1 to support the bill. Chairman Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City and no relation to Dick Tieszen, said the bill weighs saving lives against promoting underage drinking. He concluded the possibility of saving a life is more important.

SB 132 now heads to the full Senate, where similar bills have passed in recent years. No “Good Samaritan” bill has yet to pass the House.

Rape and domestic violence bills debated Thursday

Legislative committees voted to expand several protections for victims of rape and domestic violence Thursday.

But a third bill, making it easier to convict people of rape where the victim was too intoxicated to consent, is on hold as stakeholders try to solve their disagreements.

A proposal to revise the state’s domestic violence laws, Senate Bill 147, passed unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It says that violence between people in or formerly in a “dating relationship” qualifies as domestic violence. Currently people in a romantic relationship are only protected by domestic violence laws if they have a child together or live together.

A similar bill last year failed after running into opposition from some Republican House members. Social conservatives opposed protections for same-sex couples, while other lawmakers opposed including dating couples under domestic violence.

SB 147 includes both gender-neutral language and protection for dating. But on Thursday at least one prominent social conservative activist testified in favor of the measure.

Dale Bartscher, head of the South Dakota Family Heritage Alliance, said he helped draft the bill and had no concerns about it protecting same-sex couples.

Another measure, House Bill 1169, would have provided free rape examinations to victims even without a decision to press charges. Right now, free examinations are only given as part of a criminal investigation.

“We need to protect the victim (first),” said Dianna Miller, a lobbyist for South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Domestic Assault. “Then the decision will be made by the victim and the prosecutors and law enforcement to investigate.”

Miller said she did not believe HB 1169 would discourage women from coming forward to report rapes. She said it would have the opposite effect, by removing any financial disincentive.

No one testified against HB 1169, and no lawmakers on the committee spoke against it. It passed 11-2, with Reps. Jenna Haggar and Blaine Campbell voting no.

While both those bills will move on to the full Senate and House, respectively, a third bill dealing with rape has an uncertain future.

Senate Bill 173 would remove a defense against certain rape charges established by a 2011 South Dakota Supreme Court case.

One of the standards for rape is sex where the victim “is incapable of giving consent because of any intoxicating, narcotic, or anesthetic agent.”

In South Dakota v. Jones, the state Supreme Court ruled that law requires proof that the “the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the complainant’s intoxicated condition rendered her incapable of consenting.”

Christopher Jones, the defendant in that case, was granted a new jury trial, which convicted him despite the new defense.

South Dakota’s state’s attorneys asked the Legislature to remove that defense, specifying  “the prosecution need not prove that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim’s intoxicated condition rendered the victim incapable of consenting.”

“We don’t have to prove that the victim was incapable of giving consent because of mental incapacity,” said Paul Bachand, representing the South Dakota State’s Attorney’s Association. “The same should apply for intoxication of the victim.”

The victim in the South Dakota v. Jones rape case also gave emotional testimony, saying she was “disgusted” that the law protected “the man who admitted to raping me.”

But the state’s criminal defense lawyers and Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s office expressed concern about the bill, which would go farther than any other state.

Matt Konenkamp of Daugaard’s office said South Dakota’s rape law should attempt to punish the guilty and not people who “never intended any harm.”

“It is the line in the sand between someone who has criminal propensity, someone who is intending to victimize someone, and someone who, on the other side, may have genuinely believed that they were engaging in a consensual act,” Konenkamp said.

After testimony from both sides, the Senate Judiciary Committee deferred action on SB 173 until next week to give both sides a chance to try to reach a compromise.

Medical marijuana, lower penalties proposed (Updated)

Two South Dakota bills would relax South Dakota’s marijuana laws.

One, Senate Bill 221, would lower the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

It would make possessing two ounces or less of marijuana a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

That offense is currently a Class 1 misdemeanor, with penalties up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The bill doesn’t change any penalties for possessing more than two ounces of the drug.

The list of sponsors for SB 221 is an interesting one. Its prime sponsor is Sen. Jim Bradford, a Democrat from Pine Ridge. It’s also backed by Sen. Craig Tieszen, a Rapid City Republican and former police chief, and by Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, one of the most conservative lawmakers in the House.

Another, House Bill 1227, would let people charged with possession of two ounces of less of marijuana defend themselves by claiming medical necessity.

It’s a back-door approach to legalizing medical marijuana, which South Dakota voters have in the past rejected.

"Medical necessity" is defined as "any medical condition that a competent medical authority has recommended that the defendant use marijuana for palliative care."

Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, is the prime sponsor of this bill. The sponsors include many of the same supporting SB 221, including Tieszen and Bradford.

Bill increasing penalties for guard-juvenile inmate sex passes committee

A bill increasing penalties for prison guards who have sex with juvenile inmates passed its first committee unanimously today.

It’s currently a Class 6 felony, the lowest level of felony in South Dakota law, for a guard to engage in sexual activity with an inmate. That carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.

But under the law there’s no difference depending on whether the inmate is a legal adult. Attorney General Marty Jackley said sex with an inmate younger than 16, the age of consent, could be charged as rape, but sex with an inmate who’s 16 or 17 would be treated the same as with an adult.

That would change if the Legislature passes Senate Bill 38. It would make it a Class 4 felony, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, for a guard to have sex with a juvenile inmate.

“What we’re trying to say is, this activity’s bad in the first place,” Jackley told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning. “If you’re going to pick on that minor… we’re going to enhance that felony.”

The bill was inspired by the case of Lorenzo Brown, Jr., a former Sioux Falls Storm quarterback and Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center employee who pleaded guilty to sexual contact with an inmate for relations with a then-17-year-old.

“I think most people in the community, coming out of the Sioux Falls case, have said, ‘Why is this only a 2-year felony?’” Jackley said.

The South Dakota State’s Attorney’s Association and South Dakota Families First both testified briefly in support of the bill.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-0 and now heads to the full Senate.

Former lawmaker commits suicide after home searched for child porn

Late Thursday afternoon, word started to spread around the South Dakota Capitol that longtime former lawmaker Gil Koetzle had died.

No one had any specifics, or at least none that they would share. On the floor of the Senate today, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels briefly praised Koetzle.

"With Gil’s passing yesterday, I think we’re all stunned," Michels said. "Gil was a great person, just a super human being."

Other lawmakers expressed similar sentiments around the Capitol.

Now Argus Leader reporter John Hult has information that changes the tenor of the news considerably.

Koetzle, 60, committed suicide Thursday after authorities seized drugs and computers from his home after tracing child pornography to his email account, Hult reports.

We don’t yet have all the information yet, though detectives say that there is no “indication that there was any physical contact with children” by Koetzle.

For a summary of Koetzle as a legislator, read this Mercer piece.

UPDATE: Hult, saving me a bunch of work, talks to veteran lawmakers who served with Koetzle. Everyone was shocked by the news.

“If you’d have asked me to name 1,000 people who had a problem with that, Gil would have been the 1,000th,” said Rep. Bernie Hunhoff.

Read the follow-up here.

Manhunt for man accused of threatening Gov. Daugaard

A breaking story from my colleague John Hult:

Law enforcement has asked for help from the public in locating a man who allegedly threatened Gov. Dennis Daugaard and his family.

William Roman Becker, 53, of Monticello, Minn. is believed to be driving a 1985 Dodge Ram van with a Minnesota license plate number RVB8184.

Minnehaha County Assistant Sheriff Michelle Boyd said Becker is wanted on a warrant for threatening a constitutional officer and threatening a constitutional officer’s family out of Hughes County.

Becker also has a warrant for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in Brookings County.

The Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office got a tip yesterday saying that Becker might be in southeast South Dakota or southwest Minnesota area. He is considered dangerous, but it is not known if he is armed, Boyd said.

Boyd did not have the details of the alleged threats to Daugaard, directing inquiries to the Hughes County Sheriff’s Office, who did not immediately return calls.

Daugaard spokesperson Tony Venhuizen said the governor’s office does not comment on security threats.

Anyone with information on Becker or his whereabouts is encouraged to call local law enforcement. The law enforcement center in Sioux Falls is at 367-7212. For emergencies, dial 911.

Click through to see a photo of Becker.

UPDATE: More details. Becker allegedly left threatening voicemails a week ago:

The threats allegedly made to Gov. Daugaard involved voicemails left on Sept. 20, according to Sgt. Darin Johnson of the Hughes County Sheriff’s Office. The arrest warrant was issued on Wednesday.

The Division of Criminal Investigation collected the details of the threats, said Johnson, who didn’t know further information on the specifics.

“It was considered serious enough to issue a warrant,” Johnson said.

Threatening a constitutional officer and threatening the family of a constitutional officer are both Class 5 felonies, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

UPDATE 2: Here’s the largely uninformative warrant for Becker’s arrest.

'Caylee's Law' gets its SD debut

This spring, South Dakota lawmakers passed a law proposed by Attorney General Marty Jackley, making it a crime to not report the disappearance or death of a child in their care.

It was inspired by “Caylee’s Law,” a measure passed in Florida and many other states after the death of the two-year-old Florida girl Caylee Anthony led to a nationwide spectacle when her mother Casey was investigated and charged (and ultimately acquitted of most counts).

Just a few days after that law went into effect on July 1, it’s getting its first use.

Jackley announced today that Taylor Cournoyer, 21, and Laurie Cournoyer, 28, both of Wagner, would be each charged with one felony count of failure to report the death of a child.

Read my colleague John Hult’s full story here.

Under the new law, that has a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The two are also charged with one felony count of child abuse, which has a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

A two-year-old girl in the Cournoyers’ care, RieLee Lovell, was found dead in their home many hours at least a day and a half after her apparent death.

When the Legislature was debating Jackley’s bill, they argued a fair bit about what the best time period to set, beyond which it became a crime to not report a missing or dead child.

They ultimately went with Jackley’s initial suggestions. It’s a misdemeanor to not report a missing child more than 48 hours after you become aware he or she is missing, and a felony to not report a dead child more than six hours after learning of the child’s death.

Jackley suggested this spring that lawmakers adopt the law, and revisit the time periods if necessary in future years.

A blow to Dems’ Legislature hopes?

My Argus colleague John Hult breaks the news this morning that one of the two Democratic candidates for District 10 House of Representatives was cited a week ago for DUI and careless driving after hitting a 7-year-old girl on a bicycle.

The child was hospitalized with possible internal injuries. I don’t have any more information on her condition.

Carmen Toft, 32, is declining comment on advice of her attorney. An employee of Planned Parenthood of South Dakota, she’d been active in statewide ballot campaigns.

Three Republicans — incumbent Jenna Haggar, Don Haggar, and former Sioux Falls mayor and legislator Dave Munson — are competing in the GOP primary. The other Democratic candidate is Barb Kavanaugh, wife of former Sioux Falls City Council member Kevin Kavanaugh.

No word yet if Toft will be continuing her campaign or dropping out. If she does drop out, there are procedures for the Democratic Party to replace her on the ballot.

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