The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chewing and grinding

The following seems pertinent in light of the extensive coverage given the Kooiker affair.

In August of 2007, Eric Sage was returning home to Nebraska on his motorcycle from the Sturgis Rally when he was stopped by a So. Dak. Highway Patrolman. His friends, who had been preceding him in a pickup on I-90 ten miles east of Rapid City, also stopped to wait for the HP to get done with Eric.

As these things often do, the incident resulted in the HP searching everything in sight, including the pickup. The search turned up a pipe in a purse in the pickup. The HP charged four people (three in the pickup) with “possession of paraphernalia,” despite the fact that the owner of the purse owned up to owning the pipe. All were allowed to proceed down the road.

Sage, who has a spotless criminal record, refused to pay the ticket. He had to drive 500 miles round-trip three times to Rapid City for court appearances, and retained a lawyer. Gina Nelson in Glenn Brenner’s prosecutorial office handled the case. She refused to respond to Sage’s lawyer’s phone calls asking, “Are you really going to take this to a preliminary hearing (at which a judge would decide if there was enough evidence to take the case to trial)?”

Sage arrived at the Penn. Co. court house the morning of the preliminary hearing to find a note from Nelson at the Clerk of Courts desk, “Charges dismissed.” Sage had spent over $4000 to defend himself on a chickenfeces ticket that should never have been issued. Nelson flipped him the bird by making him come to Rapid City for a hearing she knew would not take place.

Eric filed a grievance with the So. Dak. Bar. Gina Nelson was eventually “admonished” by the Bar for “pursuing a prosecution in which she stood little chance of prevailing for the purposes of punishing a defendant financially.”

The Rapid City Weekly News carried a story about Eric’s prosecution, but refused to carry follow-up stories as the case progressed. Its editor, Tom Lawrence, told me he had received a threatening phone call from Glenn Brenner.

A Rapid City Journal reporter told me he would not write a story about the Bar’s action because Brenner’s office wouldn’t comment on it. This, in spite of the fact that the Journal runs a section daily about people accused of crimes without asking them for comment.

In this case, there was proof that Gina Nelson had tried to extort $250 (the fine for paraphernalia), along with an admission to a crime not committed, from a man she knew was innocent. The Journal wouldn’t run the story, nor would the Weekly News.

Gina Nelson and Glenn Brenner still use the same tactics. The Weekly News is gone. The Journal still does or doesn’t cover stories depending on whether it feels like it or not.

You can read the documents and follow the chain of events in the Sage case here.

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