Lakota Perspectives 

 

LANCE RUSSELL’S DRAMATIC MURDER TRIAL
By Janis Schmidt,
Writer, Artist and Civil Rights Leader

Hot Springs, South Dakota, is an idealic little town, nestled at the base of the Black Hills. Beautiful old houses with their steep pitched roofs, and the natural hot mineral springs. Except for the gangs, and a few other things, it’s a paradise. Years ago, Hot Springs used to be a hot bed of vigilante activity. Ranchers and miners would routinely gun down wild, hostile Indians who thought the Black Hills belonged to the Lakota Indians.

Custer and the 7th Cavalry had just been wiped out by Crazy Horse and his Oglalas, led by Sitting Bull and his Hunkpapas. The miners and ranchers who had illegally entered the Black Hills still felt a nervous unease around Indians, who they felt, ought to confine themselves to the Reservation, totally discarding the fact that the Black Hills along with half of South Dakota was the Great Sioux Reservation, given in the Treaty of 1968 to the Lakotas.

The Homestead Act of 1862 enabled people to own land for the first time in their lives. Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, the Homestead Act of 1862 opened up much of the West for settlement. The United States government took land from American Indians through war, treaties and trading, and declared this land "public domain," open to settlement by American citizens. Western territories such as Nebraska, North and South Dakota, were measured into square mile sections and further divided into "quarter sections," or 160-acre lots.

Times change. From the horse to supersonic travel, faster than you can say, “I lost my constitutional rights in a blink of an eye, and never knew what hit me.”

Dirk and Dakota Garnier were victims of a racially motivated hate crime, beaten by a gang of white boys led by Matt Pepin, Dillon brothers, and Seth Shaffer.  Then Lance Russell turns around and is accusing Dirk and Dakota of hitting Pepin in the head with a baseball bat, causing him serious head injuries.  But Dirk and Dakota never had any baseball bats, and were the victims of a ganging.  

Hot Springs has a long history of racial prejudice against Indians. Lance Russell, the prosecuting States Attorney from Hot Springs, requested to have the brothers extradited from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to Hot Springs where he wants to prosecute them for attempted premeditated murder charges.

Just recently, a trial was scheduled for George Birlou, charged with attempted murder in connection with the June 2nd incident in Hot Springs.  He was one of the 4 Lakotas who had been walking with Dirk, Dakota and Theodore Eagle.

On December 6th, Tuesday, I attended the jury trial of George Birlou. Having arrived at about 10am, I went to the Clerk of Court to ask where the courtroom was  In back with the Clerks was a deputy Sheriff.  I was quite surprised when they told me that no one was allowed into the courtroom.

"Is this the trial of George Birlou?"  I asked.

"Yes." "My name is Janis Sch----------"  (cut off)

"We know who you are,"  said the deputy.

“ I am the founder of Lakota Wawokiya Civil Rights Organization."  I said. "I thought jury trials were supposed to be open to the public according to the Constitution of the United States."

The Clerk said,  "They weren't letting anyone into the courtroom yesterday."

I said,  "I thought secret trials and hearings were not a part of the American judicial system."

The clerk said,  "I will check and see."  She went into the courtroom through a back door.  She came back shortly and said to me,  "You may go in, but you are not to cause a disturbance."

I thought that was a very strange remark for the Clerk to make.  I assured her I was only there to observe, and I went into the courtroom, making sure to hold the handle of the door when I closed it so it would not make a sound. Lance Russell was questioning witnesses for the State. 

The first one I heard was a girl who saw nothing, knew nothing, that nothing was going on with the white boys.  Yet she saw Matt Pepin on the ground, writhing around in anguish and blood streaming all around.  And she began to cry.  Russell asked in detail about Matt's condition.  But she didn't know how this happened.

The next witness called was Seth Shaffer, in whom Russell said he had granted immunity to for his testimony.  He claims he was just driving around with a bunch of his friends when they were threatened by these Indians.  Four carloads of white boys, over 20 persons altogether, were challenged by 4 Indian boys who were on foot.  Shaffer stated that Matt Pepin had a discussion with everyone. Shaffer claims he was standing beside Pepin when one of the Garnier brothers picked up a bat and clubbed Pepin, who fell to the ground, with his eyes rolled back. While on the ground, Shaffer testified that he saw Dirk and Dakota stomp and kick Pepin as he lay on the ground.  Then, instead of aiding his friend, Shaffer took after Garnier with a baseball bat and clubbed him, leaving Pepin writhing and bleeding, with his eyes rolled back.

Then Lance Russell had Shaffer get out of the witness stand, come around, and demonstrate for the jury, how Dirk and Dakota were stomping and kicking poor Pepin.  What drama!  I think Michael Spielberg would be impressed.

Sitting next to the judge, was an official, possible FBI or a US Marshall, and sitting next to him was a deputy sheriff.  The clerk came in and handed a note to the deputy sheriff.  He read it and handed it to the man sitting next to him. They both were staring very hard at me.  It was almost 11:30, and the judge called for a short recess, which is when I left.

I was, frankly, quite troubled by what I had just witnessed.  A closed court. Then, it appeared to me that this trial was more about garnering evidence against Dirk and Dakota Garnier than it was about the trial of George Birlou. I strongly suspected that Birlou would be found not guilty, and there would be enough unchallenged testimony to turn over the Garnier brothers to the FBI, no extradition, no questions asked.

The next day, as I was heading out west of Pine Ridge, my car quit running. Leroy and I got someone to push us back to Pine Ridge.  We called someone to come and help, and we said we would wait at Big Bats.  We weren't even there 5 minutes when OST Public Safety chief-of-police Harold Brewer and 4 officers surrounded me, forced me into a squad car, and took me to the Pine Ridge Jail, as Brewer said, “to detain me. I was taken in a police car to the Pine Ridge jail.  The time was about 9am. Brewer told me to wait there, which I did for about 5 hours.  

When Brewer and another officer came back officer returned, I asked if I could go. Brewer said no, that I was under arrest, and would be booked, placed in the Pine Ridge jail, and Sheriff Daggot would be called to take me to the Hot Springs jail. As I was being booked in, I asked Brewer what I was being charged with. He said,  "Trespass."

I asked,  "Who made the complaint?"

He said,  "Ann Apple, the prosecutor in Kyle."  

Hmmmm, I was thinking, double jeopardy and false arrest, plus confined as a nonmember in the OST jail, a jurisdiction issue.  But I said nothing, except that I wanted to talk to a lawyer. I was placed in solitary confinement.  

I tried to get the attention of the guard, so that I could call an attorney.  They said I had made one phone call. "But, I hadn't talked with a lawyer, because she wasn't home."  They didn't care. I kept trying to get their attention, but they deliberately ignored me.

When other male prisoners saw who was in the cell, they crowded around the little window and the small opening for a food tray.  They wanted to tell me what had happened to them.  We talked until guards came and chased them away. One came by later to tell me that they were strictly forbidden to talk to me, that if they did, they would be put into their cells and privileges revoked, plus certain guards could really make things miserable for them.  I told him, I understood. He said he tried to call the Tribal building for me, but they wouldn't let him.

Finally, at about 5:30pm, I called an Officer over.  I told him that I wanted to call an attorney.  

Officer Jensen asked,  "Are you an enrolled member?"

I said,  "No."

He said,  "Are you aware the, that you have no rights on this reservation, other than civil rights?"

I said,  "You must be aware then, that I am allowed to talk to an attorney."

He said,  "You're smart and educated.  You should know you have no rights. And you already had your one phone call."

I said,  "This isn't about phone calls, it's about talking to an attorney."

"I'll see"  he said, slamming the iron door shut and locking it. A long time later, he returned and said I could make a phone call after 8. I asked why after 8?  He said that I couldn't make any phone calls during visiting hours.  Regulations. I thanked him and asked the time.  6:44

Time drags on.  I was having trouble enduring 8 hours of confinement. I think about the great people who have endured so much more.  Nelson Mandela, Leonard Peltier, Martin Luther King, and the not so well known:  Arlo Looking Cloud, Kelly Skinner, Donny Bear Robe and the many, many more who were falsely accused, who I tried to help. I know they can't hold me in tribal jail indefinitely.  Legally, they can't hold me at all, and legally, they are required to turn me over to the Sheriff and States Attorney Lance Russell in Hot Springs.  I am reasonably sure that the Sheriff and Lance Russell are not going to touch this with a 10 foot pole.

What is really going on here?  I feel like a political prisoner.  Why am I being detained?  Who is really giving the orders?  The charge, trespassing really ties into my lawsuits. What is 8 hours compared with 28 or 30 years Mandela and Peltier spent behind bars?  I know I will be released.  I have so very much to do, with so many lives depending on me.  I would like to get back to the trial in Hot Springs.  A closed trial.  I wonder if Russell had anything to do with me sitting in jail?  Or do they just want to prevent me from getting anywhere with my lawsuit.  

I am the civil rights leader, which is why I was at the trial.  What a circus!  I don't turn people down when they come to me for help. And for this, I needlessly suffer.  Or is it all pointless?  Is there a higher purpose? a guiding Hand who lead me here to suffer with these Lakota people so that I can tell their story?  What am I supposed to do?

All around me, I see needless suffering, mankind inflicting cruelties on each other, all without compassion or remorse.  These are the people who are the system. They make the American monster that the world fears and hates. It is so sad that within a tribal people, they copy-cat the American system in their tribal government, with equally unpleasant results, and then have the nerve to say they are the real Lakotas.  If that were true, then the real Lakota would be someone full of cunning and deceit, waiting to stab you in the back. Yet, I know they are not the real Lakotas.  I was very privileged to meet a few of the real Lakotas.  Tony Black Feather, Garfield Grass Rope, Ida Lakota, Jessie Waters, Wallace Black Elk.  They are all gone.  So are the 4 virtues they lived by:  generosity, courage, respect and wisdom.  Most of all, their lives were full of grace and love.
 
Isn't it interesting?  They took all of my material items when they made me a prisoner, even searched me for weapons.  But this artist and writer thought to bring a pen and handful of paper, which they allowed me to keep. I suppose they thought I couldn't do much harm with that.

The same officer Jensen stopped by with a whole new attitude.  I asked if it was time for me to make my phone call.  It is 7:50.  

"No," he said.  "Just wanted to know if you wanted to take a shower?"

"Did you know you can't really hold me without charging me?"

He said, "You are charged with trespass."

"That's an old charge, and a false one at that, from over a year and a half ago, which has already gone to tribal court.  How can I be charged twice?"
 
"We can hold you up to 72 hours." 

 I said nothing because I realized they were just detaining me so that I would not go back into Lance Russell's court and witness any of the cleverly staged shenanigans. "72 hours,"  I said,  "That's 3 or 4 days?"

But he really wanted to change the subject back to if I wanted to take a shower. Then I could get an orange jumpsuit while they washed my clothes.  He put it like it was my choice, but I really didn’t have a choice on my essential freedom.   I said I really just wanted to talk to my lawyer, which he finally agreed to once I agreed to surrender my clothes for the orange jumpsuit after I took a shower.

I finally got to make a phone call to a lawyer who said she would come down right away.  I said, better check first.  I handed the phone to Officer Jensen who told my attorney she could not see me at this time, that visiting hours were over.  He told her she could see me tomorrow between 1 an 3, visiting hours. She said she wasn't coming to visit, but to see me as an attorney.  Officer Jensen was adamant on this, and refused.

I took the shower, got into the orange jumpsuit, back into solitary confinement, and the next morning, at 6am, I asked a new guard if I could call my lawyer.  I told her that yesterday they had refused to let me see an attorney. The new guard said they couldn't do that, and that I could call my attorney, which I did at 8am.  I told her to come down because they couldn't really deny me to see an attorney.
 
A couple of hours later, as I was talking to my attorney, someone came in and said that I was being released because the charges were dropped.  Then along came Harold Brewer and Tribal prosecutor Teresa Two Bulls. .  Brewer said that I would be released to my attorney and escorted off the Reservation, that if I returned I would be turned over to the FBI, and that if Leroy, an elderly man whom I live with, tries to take me back, they will arrest him for harboring a fugitive.  They already shut off his electricity for the past 4 weeks. Oddly enough, Leroy told me that the electricity had been turned back on the same day I was detained, arrested, and jailed.

I was forced off the Reservation, in the middle of winter with no place to go, and had to leave all my living essentials behind.  There was nothing from Harold Brewer as to what was going to be done about this.  Or that I have 2 more classes to teach for Oglala Lakota College on the reservation. Interestingly enough, I heard that charges against George Birlou had been dropped and his case was dismissed.  I wonder what will be the next move of the FBI.  And I really wonder if Governor Rounds is going to conduct an investigation into what really happened the day Dirk and Dakota Garnier got beat up, like I asked him to.

Website Builder