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Riggs High to start hybrid learning after spike in COVID cases
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(Updated from original online version).As the number of active COVID-19 cases in Hughes County increases, Pierre’s T.F. Riggs High School has adopted a hybrid learning model for the foreseeable future. School was not in session Friday, Sept. 18, but will resume with a day of schoolwide virtual instruction on Monday. Other than the partial transition to virtual learning, current plans are for the school schedule to remain the same.

As of Friday afternoon, the school district website reflected five active cases among students, but the Pierre School District Superintendent Kelly Glodt said there are 18 infections among students at Riggs during a special school board meeting on Friday. Glodt said, fortunately, none of the infected students are seriously ill, which he said was a “huge concern” of the district’s.

The list of active cases is updated each Monday at https://pierre.k12.sd.us/.

Additionally, Riggs’ officials have identified at least 200 students as “close contacts,” meaning they were within 6 feet of an infected person for longer than 15 minutes. The number of close contacts “adds up quickly” when students are sitting close together in eight different classrooms a day.

”The rates of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 has greatly increased over the past few days. The number of our students who are having to quarantine due to being identified as a close contact is in the hundreds and continuing to escalate,” the Thursday statement issued by Riggs’ Principal Kevin Mutchelknaus, along with Assistant Principals Amy Boutchee and Rob Coverdale, reads.

The new plan will divide the student body in half by alphabetical order. Officials said the strategy will allow both halves of the students to attend school in person two days a week, and the other two days for online instruction. Every Monday will be entirely virtual.

These increased social distancing measures should put the number of close contacts “at almost zero,” Glodt said.

For classes such as welding with limited students per class or where remote instruction is not possible, students can come in every day. Students without internet access at home will have socially distant spaces set aside in the building for them to complete their online classes. Students with learning accommodations will be brought in as much as possible, and if need be, all day every day. Students will still be served lunch in the same way as usual, and students whose classes are virtual can still come in to school for lunch.

The overall goal of the hybrid model is to keep students connected with the classroom and accountable for their education, regardless of if they are physically in school.

”The emphasis, either in person or virtually, would be every day is a school day. Every day, all day. We don’t want our students to be picking up hours at their part-time job. We want them connected with the classroom — and so as much as possible in those situations where we can bring in students in person in smaller numbers, we would really like to do that,” Mutchelknaus said during the Friday board meeting.

All elementary and middle schools in the Pierre School District, which have yet to see any infections, are scheduled to operate regularly at this time.

This news about Riggs came Thursday, which followed the Wednesday announcement that the school’s football, volleyball and soccer games for the remainder of this week are canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Also Thursday, Riggs Band Director Mackenzie McKeithan Jensen said marching band performances and practices are also suspended at this time.

The closure allowed high school staff to prepare for the transition to hybrid learning. The hybrid learning model was presented by Mutchelknaus at Friday’s board meeting, when it was unanimously adopted.

“We believe [the changes] will greatly reduce the spread of COVID and the number of students who are having to quarantine,” the email said.

The Riggs’ administrators asked that high school students “please exercise good judgement” and not have any social gatherings during the day off or over the weekend. During the special board meeting, Glodt emphasized the importance of community vigilance to mitigate further spread.

The plans are subject to change as the situation evolves, and the hybrid learning model will stay in place “for now,” Mutchelknaus said.

”We met three times this week, and each time I started by saying, ‘Everything I say right now might change in a half-an-hour,’ and that’s kind of almost as fast as things did move. So, fortunate to have had that day, and we’re still in a good place,” Mutchelknaus said. “We have to be creative and continue to provide the best education we can.”

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Rounds, fellow GOP senators, want 10 years in prison for police assailants
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Citing ongoing social and political turmoil across America, — as well as the cries of many liberals to “Defund The Police” — U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and several GOP senators want to see those convicted of attacking police officers serve 10 years in prison.

“Our bill will help to make sure that individuals who target and violently attack officers will be held fully accountable for their criminal actions,” Rounds, a Fort Pierre resident, said Thursday upon introducing the Protect and Serve Act.

“South Dakota’s law enforcement officers are men and women with families just like ours, who put their lives in danger every day to protect our communities,” Rounds added. “As a nation based on law and order, law enforcement officers have a critical role in our society. They do not have an easy job--it takes courage, selflessness and a desire to make your community safer.”

Rounds said that in 2020, 37 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed, including eight who died as a result of what he termed “premeditated attacks.”

Specifically, if passed and signed into law, the Protect and Serve Act would:

Make it a federal crime to knowingly cause, or attempt to cause, serious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer. Those convicted would be subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years; and

Allow the offender to receive up to a life prison sentence if a death results from the offense, or the offense includes kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, or attempted murder.

The law would apply to state and local officers in circumstances where the federal government could establish jurisdiction. It would also apply to officers who work for federal law enforcement agencies, a few of which are:


ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)

ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Marshals Service

“Particularly after the recent attacks on North Carolina Sheriff Deputy Ryan Hendrix and officers in Los Angeles, it is time to pass this legislation and send a clear message that acts of violence like this are unacceptable and that there will be no escape from justice for these criminals,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, a cosponsor, said. “I am committed to supporting the men and women who swear an oath to protect us, and that is why I am proud to introduce this legislation that would create federal penalties for criminals who target law enforcement officers.”

Tillis faces a strong Democratic challenger for re-election this year, as does another of the bill’s cosponsors, U.S. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia.

“The radical left’s crusade against law and order has only encouraged violence against our brothers and sisters in blue,” Loeffler said. “We cannot allow these atrocities to become the status quo. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in defense of law enforcement and in ensuring those who attempt to perpetrate these appalling crimes are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Among those also pushing the act are U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, and James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma.

“This year, there have been over 20% more law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty than this time in 2019. This devastating fact can be directly accredited to the chaos that has been emboldened by elected officials who have refused to maintain law and order in their cities,” Blackburn said. “It’s unfortunate that the state of our public discourse has led us to this point.”

“The violence we’ve seen directed at law enforcement officers and other law-abiding Americans over the past few months is appalling and only continues to escalate,” Inhofe added. “I remain committed to law enforcement officers in Oklahoma and across this nation.”

Other sponsors include U.S. Sens. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana; Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; Rick Scott, R-Florida; Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia; Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas; Mike Braun, R-Indiana; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; David Perdue, R-Georgia; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi; and John Boozman, R-Arkansas.

Rounds continued talking law and order in his Friday weekly commentary.

“It goes without saying that here in South Dakota, we’ve got it pretty good. We are patriots who love our country and want to see it succeed. And we don’t understand how local leaders could stand by and watch their communities burn,” Rounds said. “Having a legitimate discussion about improving policing policies is one thing. Attempting to defund the police is entirely different. Defunding the police can only lead to one thing and that’s anarchy — just look at Portland, Kenosha or Minneapolis. These cities should learn a lesson from South Dakota and back the blue.”

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Pioneer Supreme Ginsburg dies; Thune says Senate will vote on Trump nominee
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the high court, died Friday at her home in Washington, D.C, according to news reports.

She was 87 and had fought pancreatic cancer for some time.

“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement published in the nation’s top newspapers Friday evening, Sept. 18. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today, we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

She was known as the liberal leader on the court. Now with eight justices and a vacancy only six weeks before the presidential election, the word is that a heated battle already is afoot: President Donald Trump has a long list of nominees and Republicans have the majority in the Senate.

Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The first woman on the court, Sandra Day O’Connor, was nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan.  Day O'Connor welcomed Ginsburg to the court, despite their different political  and judicial views, saying it would take pressure off her as the lone woman.

She retired in 2006.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday reprised Ginsburg’s 2014 interview with the paper that it said illustrated her growing liberal leadership in the Court’s minority: “The genius of this Constitution is that, over the course of now more than two centuries, ‘we the people’ has become more and more inclusive. So it includes people whose ancestors were held in human bondage. It includes Native Americans, who were not part of ‘we the people’ when the charter was ratified in 1789.”

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is the Senate’s majority whip, meaning the only Republican to outrank him in the body is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Late Friday, Thune said he believes the Senate will vote on a replacement for Ginsburg.

“I believe Americans sent a Republican president and a Republican Senate to Washington to ensure we have an impartial judiciary that upholds the Constitution and the rule of law. We will fulfill our obligation to them. As Leader (Mitch) McConnell has said, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate,” Thune said late Friday.

President Trump heard the news of Ginsburg’s passing from reporters on the tarmac at the airport in Bemidji in northern Minnesota, as he was leaving after giving a two-hour speech, according to news reports.

According to CSPAN’s Twitter page, Trump response was: "She just died? Wow. I didn't know that. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agree or not. She was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I'm actually sad to hear that."

Later Friday, Trump released a formal statement, calling Ginsburg a “titan of the law” and seemed to refer to Ginsburg’s famous if unlikely friendship with the late Justice Anthony Scalia, the conservative leader on the court for years:

"Renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissents at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one's colleagues or different points of view."

Shown is a highly magnified photo of the virus that creates COVID-19.

COVID-19, By The Numbers
  • Updated

4 (Same as Wednesday)

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Hughes County, according to the South Dakota Department of Health as of 4 p.m Friday.

135 (+ 106 from Wednesday)

Active COVID-19 cases in Hughes County as of 4 p.m. Friday.

5 (+ 1 from Wednesday)

Active COVID-19 cases in Stanley County as of 4 p.m. Friday.

6,656,799Total COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of 4 p.m. Friday.


Deaths attributed to COVID-19 across the U.S. as of 4 p.m. Friday.

18,075 (+ 784 from Wednesday)

Total COVID-19 cases in South Dakota, according to the state Department of Health as of 4 p.m. Friday.

2,809 (+ 367 from Wednesday)

Active COVID-19 cases in South Dakota as of 4 p.m. Friday.

198 (+ 6 from Wednesday)Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in South Dakota.

144 (+ 5 from Wednesday)People “currently” hospitalized for COVID-19 in South Dakota.

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Out-of-state help tapped to investigate A.G. Ravnsborg fatally hitting pedestrian
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(UPDATED: Victim's cousin on Ravnsborg's car: "It was a red Taurus. I saw that hole in the windshield.”)

According to Gov. Kristi Noem the investigation into the Saturday night, Sept. 12, collision at Highmore in which the state’s top law officer was driving a car that hit and killed a man is largely being outsourced.

Noem and her Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price held a short news conference Tuesday in the Capitol to again discuss how they are handling the investigation into Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The 44-year-old A.G. was driving a westbound car that hit and killed Joseph Boever, 55, about 10:20 p.m., Sept. 12, on U.S. Highway 14 near Highmore.

They said little or nothing about the car Ravnsborg was driving, although he confirmed Monday it was his own 2011 Ford Taurus he drove from a GOP dinner in Redfield home to Pierre when, passing by the rural west side of Highmore, he hit what he says he thought was a deer.

Highmore is 50 miles east-northeast of Pierre.

Ravnsborg said he right away called 911, at 10:24 p.m., to report that he hit a large animal, probably a deer. Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who lives less than a mile away, soon arrived.

They did not find a deer and the sheriff allowed Ravnsborg to use his own vehicle to drive home to Pierre, the attorney general said.

It wasn’t until Ravnsborg returned the sheriff’s vehicle Sunday morning and stopped to search in the daylight that he found Boever’s body lying in the north ditch near the highway, Ravnsborg said in a written statement released Monday night.

According to Boever’s cousins, Victor Nemec and Nick Nemec, of nearby Holabird, Boever apparently was walking along U.S. Highway 14 out to where he had left his Ford pickup truck in the ditch earlier Saturday evening about a 1.25 mile west of the junction of Highway 14 with state Highway 47 in Highmore.

Boever’s cousins, and several people in Highmore who viewed the scene, said Boever’s body was found about a half-mile west of that junction in Highmore..

Ravnsborg’s car was hauled, apparently, first to Pierre as part of the investigation that began last Sunday.

Nick Nemec told the Capital Journal he saw Ravnsborg’s car being hauled back from Pierre to Highmore on Tuesday. It was on a flatbed trailer, he said.

“It was a red Taurus. I saw that hole in the windshield,” Nemec said. The Black Hills Towing truck hauled the car to the near by state Highway Department yard and shop on the north edge of U.S. Highway 14. That DOT yard is about 300 yards east of where Boever’s body was found, according to Nemec and others.

Photos of the red Taurus with the big hole in the passenger side of the windshield are posted online after KELO-TV posted them, saying a viewer sent the TV station the photos.

Nick Nemec and Victor Nemec said it’s clear from the photos that it shows the red Taurus in the state DOT yard in Highmore. Actually, that DOT yard is north of the Highmore city line at U.S. Highway 14, about 500 yards west of state Highway 47, which is the west city limit of Highmore on the north sided of Highway 14.

The Nemecs have been critical of Ravnsborg, Noem and other state leaders, saying not enough information has been released about the incident that killed their cousin.

Noem and Price first announced it at a news conference late Sunday afternoon, saying Ravnsborg had been involved in a crash in which someone died. But nothing was said Sunday about the victim of the crash, including his gender, age or that he was walking along the highway. All those facts typically are released by the Department of Public Safety the day after a traffic crash death.

On Tuesday, Noem opened the news conference: “I know there are a lot of questions about the investigation involving the attorney general. With that I’m going to turn it over to the Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price to . . . fill you in on some details.” It was an 11-minute briefing that seemed to leave questions unanswered.

Price did have news about the scope of the investigation:

The pathology exam of Boever’s body was conducted Monday by the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office in St. Paul. Price said he could say little yet about the results.

Price also said much of the investigation, including interviews with Ravnsborg and others, is being done by agents of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of longtime Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

First elected in 2000 after two decades in the Legislature, Stenehjem is a Republican, like Ravnsborg, who was elected in 2018.

Price said he and the South Dakota Highway Patrol remain in charge of the investigation, as is normal in traffic crashes but that many of the interviews have and will be done by BCI agents from the other Dakota.

Meanwhile, Ravnsborg and his Division of Criminal Investigation — which normally would be helping in such an investigation — are not involved at all with this one, to avoid any conflict of interest, Price and Noem said.

The BCI deal is part of a reciprocal arrangement that each agency has done before for the other, Price and Noem said.

Price said the crash reconstruction part of the investigation has been farmed out to a Wyoming professional.

John Daily, a retired sheriff’s deputy in Jackson Hole, could be said to have written the book — three of them —- on crash reconstruction.

President of Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations, Daily retired in 2003 from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office in Wyoming after 25 years as a law officer, according to his company’s website. He has degrees in mechanical engineering and has investigated more than 1,000 accidents. His books are used in college classes taught by him: Fundamentals of Traffic Accident Reconstruction; Fundamentals of Applied Physics for Traffic Accident Investigators, with Nathan Shigemura, who is one of his partners in JHSI; and “Fundamentals of Traffic Crash Reconstruction, with Shigemura and Jeremy Daily, his son who also a partner in the business.

These developments announced Tuesday illustrate the two-pronged description Noem and Price are giving to this unusual investigation: it’s going to be handled just like any other traffic crash that results in a death, but they also are bringing in outside, “third-party” help to ensure it’s done right without any conflict of interest.

“We offer every situation the same standard of investigative procedures that we would any other person, but we are adding an extra level of transparency and accountability that I think is necessary in this case,” Noem said Tuesday at the brief — 11 minutes long — news conference that had several reporters on teleconference.

Their questions included whether Ravnsborg should be placed on paid leave during the investigation and how Noem and Price would counteract questions of bias when the state’s top law enforcement official is part of an investigation that could lead to criminal charges.

Noem said Ravnsborg was not involved in the investigation at all and the idea of putting him on leave had not been discussed.

Price said if the investigation’s results end up going to a prosecutor for possible charges, it would be the local one in Highmore, the Hyde County state’s attorney.

After taking several questions for her and Price, Noem stopped it and said she would give the last question to veteran Capitol reporter Bob Mercer, who was in the governor’s conference room in the Capitol.

Mercer: “For each of you, what was your reaction when you got the calls, or however you were notified (of the crash)?”

“I can’t speak to that, Bob,” Noem said. “It was a tragic situation.” And the news conference was done.

But one thing was clear this week: the investigation got going fast from Sunday on.

Victor Nemec said that Thursday night, after dark, state officials including DOT and the Highway Patrol, again blocked off traffic near the crash site along U.S. Highway 14 where Ravnsborg hit Boever.

This time both lanes were blocked off and the traffic to the west of the site was detoured south along a gravel road going south of Highway 14  following Highmore’s western-most border, 336th Avenue, known as Taylor Road,  which is about a half-mile west of the collision site; and then around to the south side of the city.

It appeared crash reconstruction may have been going on, using a Ford Taurus to perhaps measure what might be seen in headlights at night, Nemec said.

Several questions remain, having risen partly due to Ravnsborg’s written statement he released late Monday night in what he said was a move to counter untrue rumors circulating about the incident.

One detail he included that is unusual in any fatal traffic crash: that the sheriff lent his own vehicle to Ravnsborg to drive home late that night. Of course, that doesn’t happen in the typical traffic crash.

Ravnsborg said that at the time, neither he nor Volek thought the attorney general had hit anything but a deer.

Vehicle/deer collision are not uncommon, of course, in South Dakota.

Ravnsborg said he did look around at the scene that night but could not see anything other than pieces of his car on the roadway.

It wasn’t until he returned Volek’s vehicle Sunday morning, accompanied by his chief of staff Tim Bormann, that he found Boever’s lifeless body lying near the collision site, Ravnsborg said.

That would have been around 9-9:30 a.m. on Sunday, it appears, since Ravnsborg said he left Pierre at about 8 a.m., Sunday, and refueled Volek’s vehicle in Highmore. That would mean he found Boever’s body about 11 hours after the collision.

Which raises perhaps a key question in the case: Was there a chance Boever was alive for some time after being struck by Ravnsborg’s car?

On Tuesday, Price and Noem said questions about Boever’s cause and time of death could not yet be answered.

Emailed questions sent later Tuesday about Boever’s cause and time of death from the Capital Journal to the offices of Noem, Price and Ravnsborg were answered verbally by Tony Mangan, spokesman for the DPS, who said he had been delegated by all three state officials to answer the questions.

Nothing is available “as of right now from the medical examination,” including time of death, Mangan said. “An autopsy does take time to get results.”

He said he didn’t know if the family had received Boever’s body back from St. Paul.

But time of death, cause of death, which direction Boever was walking “are all part of the investigation and are being looked at,” Mangan said. “It’s one of those things we have looked at in any kind of pedestrian fatal crash.”

Victor Nemec, Boever’s cousin, said his body was not removed from the crash scene until Sunday evening, about 22 hours after the crash. Nemec said Highway Patrol troopers asked him to meet them at the Luze Funeral Home about 8 p.m., Sunday, to identify his cousin’s body, warning him that it was badly damaged.

Nick Nemec was with his brother as they looked briefly at Boever’s body.

It did show traumatic damage to Boever’s head, as if there were serious skull fractures, they told the Capital Journal.

One detail normally released early in traffic death cases, including vehicle/ pedestrian crashes, is the location of the crash.

In this case, that information has been somewhat confusing, partly due to the way the city of Highmore is laid out and partly due to that fact there have been two sites involved: where Boever was hit and where he had earlier left his pickup truck parked in the ditch.

Mangan’s report on Monday said the collision of Ravnsborg’s car with Boever happened about a mile west of Highmore.

At her Sunday afternoon news conference, Noem described the crash scene as “just west” of Highmore.

Actually, where Boever’s body was found was just across the highway from the northwest edge of Highmore and about a half-mile west of the junction of east-west U.S. Highway 14 and north-south state Highway 47 that is sort of the nexus of the city.

Highmore’s city limits extend a mile west of that junction on the south side of Highway 14; but don’t go any further west than Highway 47 on the north side of Highway 14. And most of that area west of Highway 47 is farm fields. So many in Highmore think of that site where Boever’s body was found as west of town, they told the Capital Journal, despite what the technical city limits are.

So Boever’s body was found just across the highway from the north edge of the city. That’s not far west of the Titan machinery dealership on the south side of the highway and the state DOT shop and yard on the north side of the highway, just east of a farm feedlot.

Although a sort of city-limits-looking green highway sign announcing “Highmore, Pop. 795,” greets eastbound drivers just west of the Titan dealership on Highway 14, the actual city limits on the south side of Highway 14 extend another 4,000 feet, or three-quarters of a mile, to the west from that Highmore sign, to 336th Avenue, according to the city auditor and online maps of the city.

The westbound speed limit on Highway 14 goes from 45 mph to 65 mph just at the east side of the Titan dealership property, or about 750 feet west of the junction with state Highway 47.

That would mean the speed limit where Boever was hit apparently is 65 mph.

Nothing has been said about how fast Ravnsborg was driving. That sort of detail typically isn’t released in the initial traffic crash reports that DPS issues, usually within 24 hours.

Boever’s pickup truck was in the ditch about a 1.3 miles west of the junction of highways 14 and 47, according to the Nemecs. That would be about three-quarters of a mile west of where Boever’s body was found.

Most of the day on Sunday, investigators blocked off traffic in the westbound lane of Highway 14 at and near the site where Boever was hit by Ravnsborg’s car.

According to his cousin, Victor Nemec, Boever apparently had walked out late Saturday night along Highway 14 to get back to his Ford pickup truck which he and Nemec had left in the ditch earlier that night.

Although it is most likely Boever was walking west, out to the pickup truck, it’s perhaps possible he was walking east, back from the pickup, if he had gone to retrieve something from the truck.

On Tuesday, through Mangan as spokesman, Noem, Price and Ravnsborg said that more detailed information about the location of the crash, as well as which direction Boever was walking and his time of death, was part of the investigation that could not be released yet.

Boever’s family announced a private service “to celebrate Joe’s life will be held at a later date.”

According to his obituary published on the website of Kahler Funeral Home in Dell Rapids, Boever was 55 when he died Saturday, Aug. 12, in the traffic crash at Highmore.

He was born Oct. 1, 1964, in Brookings to John W. and Dorothy Boever. The fourth of seven children, he grew up on the farm and graduated from Brookings High School in 1982. He graduated from the University of South Dakota with a nursing degree and worked at several nursing homes, according to his family.

“His gentle personality allowed him to make a special connection with the elderly. In addition to nursing, he worked as a handyman. Like his grandfathers, Joe was a talented gardener and could grow just about anything. He propagated many Jade plants for his family and rescued neglected plants wherever he went. Joe always had an insatiable curiosity. He loved learning and was a voracious reader. In fact, Joe taught himself how to read at the age of five; something his family discovered when they found him reading encyclopedias. Joe had a quick wit and dry humor that he would use when least expected.”

He and Jennifer Mohr married in 2017.

His survivors include his wife, his mother and six siblings.

“He loved his wife and family as we loved him and his passing leaves a hole in all our hearts,” his family said in his obituary.

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Tina Grey Owl of Crow Creek tribe dies in Hughes Co. Jail
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Tina Grey Owl, a former council member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe who admitted being part of a six-member ring that embezzled $1 million from the tribe, died suddenly Friday after a medical emergency in the Hughes County Jail in Pierre.

Hughes County Sheriff Darin Johnson told the Capital Journal that Grey Owl, who would have turned 65 at Thanksgiving time, had been in the jail about six days on a “federal hold” on the embezzlement conviction.

Johnson said Grey Owl had eaten breakfast when it was delivered early Friday, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.

But jail staff “first became aware of any problem about 8:50 this morning,” when they came to give Grey Owl her scheduled medications, the sheriff said on Friday.

“When they called out to her for a meds call, she didn’t respond,” Johnson said. “She was lying on her bunk. She was unconscious at the time. My staff made contact with her, emergency measures were started. She was removed from the pod and CPR was performed in the jail unit until the ambulance arrived. That was about 9 a.m. and it took her to Avera St. Mary’s Hospital.”

Grey Owl died at the hospital early Friday afternoon, Johnson said.

He declined to comment on her death until he was able to notify her family.

The jail had 136 people on Friday, including juveniles, Johnson said. Its maximum capacity is 168. Jail officials had made a concerted effort starting in March to reduce its population by asking surrounding law enforcement agencies which use the regional jail to minimize the numbers of people sent to it.

A majority of the jail’s inmates are “federal holds,” people facing federal prosecution who are held there until transfer to a federal institution after the disposition of their case in federal court. Such inmates make up a key part of the county’s annual budget because of the per-diem revenue from the federal government.

That means county leaders generally were happy to see the 10-year-old jail full with inmates. The pandemic raised the specter of danger in having a packed jail.

“The numbers were dropping back in March and April,” because of concerns about protecting inmates and staff from the pandemic, Johnson said of the jail’s population. “They were just starting to come back a little bit.”

Johnson said he can say very little about any inmate’s medical condition because of federal laws about privacy over health and medical issues.

He did say the Jail was not responding to Grey Owl’s death with any measures related to concerns about COVID-19 being found in the jail.

It’s germane because state prison officials just announced 110 new case of coronavirus at the State Women’s Prison in Pierre.

Grey Owl admitted last year in federal court in Pierre to embezzling at least $95,000 for herself from tribal accounts as part of a scheme with five others also with inside connections to the tribal financial office and/or holding tribal office.

The other five admitted, after Grey Owl’s initial guilty plea, to stealing various amounts for their own use.

Four of them were former tribal leaders like Grey Owl; two of them former council chairs of the tribe based at Fort Thompson, southeast of Pierre: Roxanne Sazue and her nephew Brandon Sazue.

U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange said the total stolen from about April 2014 through February 2019 amounted to $1 million or more.

Though she was first to plead guilty a year ago, Grey Owl had asked to be sentenced after the other five.

U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange sentenced her in May to five months in federal prison followed by five months of home confinement then two years of supervised release, or probation.

She was ordered to pay $192,000 in restitution, that was later reduced to $180,000 at her request — questions about how much she might have given back to tribal activities appears to be part of the equation — in monthly installments of $600.

But Lange’s order for her to surrender and begin her sentence was postponed more than once this year for apparently medical reasons.

Told initially to surrender June 30 to the U.S. Marshals Service, Grey Owl was granted postponements. The most recent one was ordered by Lange Aug. 13, according to court documents.

In it, Lange said Grey Owl, through her federal public defender Jana Miner, was “to extend her self-surrender date,” to Sept. 8, “to allow her the opportunity to get an MRI and address her health concerns prior to self-surrendering to the (federal) Bureau of Prisons.”

Lange said that since the federal prosecutors did not object to the motion as it was written, so let it be done.

The embezzlement scheme was led, apparently, by Roland Hawk Jr., former elected treasurer of the tribe, who admitted stealing about a half million dollars from tribal accounts for his own use.

Hawk faces separate sentencing for sexual abuse of an underage girl; his sentencing in that federal case had been set for Sept. 28. But this week it was postponed again so he could seek needed medical treatments, according to court documents.