SIOUX FALLS S.D. -- South Dakota prosecutors have dropped all charges against the head of an Indigenous-led advocacy organization stemming from a protest during then-President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore, the group announced Tuesday.
NDN Collective President Nick Tilsen was among those arrested July 3, 2020, when the protest seeking return of the Black Hills to Lakota control escalated into a scuffle with law enforcement. The charges included robbery and assault of a law enforcement officer.
Tilsen agreed to participate in a diversion program rather than face prison time, but claimed prosecutors backed out of the agreement last year after he spoke to the media about it. In his motion for dismissal, Tilsen said his remarks were protected by the First Amendment.
Deputy State’s Attorney Colleen Moran filed the dismissal Nov. 18, court documents show.
“My case held a mirror up to the so-called legal system, where prosecutors — fueled by white fragility and fear of Indigenous power — wasted years of state resources to intimidate, criminalize, and violate me,” Tilsen said in a statement Tuesday. “The fact that I’ve gone from facing 17 years in prison to all charges dismissed is not a coincidence or an act of justice — it’s evidence that the charges were bogus from the start.”
The case was transferred earlier from Pennington County in Rapid City to Minnehaha County in Sioux Falls. The original prosecutor, Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo, who is temporarily serving as South Dakota's interim attorney general, said he had a conflict of interest because he was called to testify.
Minnehaha County States Attorney Daniel Haggar did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the decision to dismiss the charges.