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News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Don't jerk. Don't jackley..

Last Sept. 10, a Thursday,  police officers from the 14-man South Lake Minnetonka,  Minnesota, Police Department were asked to make a welfare check on a home.  The family members of the home had not shown up for work or school for a few days nor had anything been heard from them.  The police found the five family members dead.  The three children and the wife were apparently killed by the husband with a shotgun, who then killed himself.  The medical examiner estimated that the deaths had occurred the previous Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

A week later, Sept.17,  the fire department from Platte, South Dakota, was dispatched early in the morning to a house in flames at the edge of town.  After the fire was doused,  authorities found another family of five dead.  The three children and the mother were apparently killed by the father with a shotgun, which he then used on himself after setting the house ablaze.

There was a big difference in the way information about the two incidents was handled by authorities and the press.  The press in Minnesota asked for and reported on developments in the case as they occurred.  The police chief who had the lead in the investigation said  "he’s trying to balance public requests for information with the progress of the investigation. 'We will do our best to work through this tragedy.'”   The reports revealed that the company the Minnesota man had founded was dealing with a law suit and some financial issues. but nothing that seemed to involve anything shady or illegal.  They also revealed the man had been treated for depression.  While the evidence indicated clearly that the  man had committed the murders and suicide,  after a matter of weeks the authorities concluded that they could not identify a motive that explained the magnitude of the act.  The last reports on the incident mention the mental health issues and leave any conclusions to the readers.  A focus of the Minnesota reports was on the work of investigators in attempting to sift out motives and explanations for the horrendous crime.  As the police tried to unravel the situation,  the public was kept abreast of their efforts,  and while no explanation was produced,  the public understood.

The South Dakota incident was handled quite differently.  The investigating agency, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation under the direction of the Attorney General's office,  made no attempt to supply the public with a coherent narrative of how it was proceeding.  Instead, stray bits of information were released to he press.  Only one of the state's legacy news agencies made a concerted effort to go beyond the piece-meal bits of information and  attempted  to report on the facts and issues involved in the investigation.  But the KELO reporter had to, in effect, conduct her own investigation and pursue her own speculations.    The Attorney General's office does not--and has not in the past--think it owes the public a report on how it is performing.  In November,  Attorney General Jacklegy held a news conference in Platte, which he purported would inform the public about the investigation.  It raised more questions than it answered.  He did the same last month..  Rather than provide a thorough and coherent account of what took place in Platte,  the press conference left people confused and uninformed,  which produced exactly the kind of rumor and speculation that a competent press operates to dispel.   The comment section in the Dakota Free Press demonstrates the level of pubic discussion that the staged "news conference"  left it its wake.  

Criminal investigators in South Dakota, especially involving  the Attorney General's office,  have a burden that the Minnesota officials do not have:  they have to cover up government criminality and complicity in graft with business schemes, which spread and infect counties and the municipalities.   The laws of South Dakota regarding public information are designed to facilitate cover-ups and misdirection so that the public is kept from knowing what its alleged servants actually do.  The EB-5 scandal is a classic example of a Kremlin-like manipulation of information to protect culprits and their scams.  The handling of information of the Westerhuis killings is also a prime example of misdirection and selective information to create confusion.

A key piece of information withheld from public knowledge involved a telephone conversation Scott Westerhuis had the day before the killings of his family.  Westerhuis, the chief financial officer for the Mid-Central Education Co-operaive had been informed that a contract his organization had to administer a $4.3 million grant was being canceled.  During the day while traveling from the Takini School in Howes back to his home base in Platte, Westerhuis was on his cell phone in a conversation that was tracked from cell tower to cell tower.   During that first "press conference" in Platte,  Jackley never indicated who the conversation was with or what it was about.  However,  reporters were informed by community people that the conversation was with Dan Guericke,  head of the Mid-Central Co-Operative.  

The timeline compiled by the AG's office  tracking Westerhuis' telephone calls does not include to whom his calls were made, except for those to his home.  The recipients of those calls are indicated by the telephone records, but the AD's office chose not to include those identities in the information it released.  The subject of those calls and the state of mind of Westerhuis are matters of essential relevance to the investigation.  And if a man spends hours on the cell phone with someone while driving,  he has something on his mind that he needs to discuss.  The reports on the investigation and the two "news conferences" provided no information about interviews with the recipients of the telephone calls, who they were, and what was the subject and nature of the conversations.  

Any responsible investigation makes a thorough inquiry about the interactions of a perpetrator with victims and witnesses.  In the Minnesota incident, investigators could not determine a precise motive, but were able to define apparent circumstances which may have motivated the crime.  In the South Dakota, the motive is most likely involved in the financial scam run by the Mid-Central Co-Operative,  but no information has been released about whether Scott Westerhuis' conversations and interactions indicated a mental state that would result in the murder of his family.  

The withholding of that information has implications of cover-up.  Agencies of the State of South Dakota are involved in both the EB-5 scandal and the Gear-Up scam, which led to suicide and murder.  In both cases, the Attorney General's office has withheld information that might reveal motives for the deaths.  That information would reveal just what the role of state officials and agencies played in the corruption and their degree of complicity, if any.  If such information was exculpatory for the government officials and agencies,  one can surmise with certainty that the AG could not be fast enough or profuse enough in supplying it. But the AG's office is charged with protecting the officials and agencies.  So, one can assume with equal certainty that such information would be embarrassing, if not dangerous, to those involved.

The Attorney Generl's office  has a history of being more like  a KGB unit which carries out political vendettas than an agency concerned with protecting the public from crime and dispensing justice.  This all became open knowledge with the case it promoted against Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro.  When the discharge 0f their duties to protect children from predations  came into conflict with some of the business-as-usual graft operations of some public agencies,  the AG's office dispatched some of the thugs in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to concoct a criminal case against them.  When the case was brought to trial, the judge threw it out,  citing misperformance by the BCI and the internal politics of the Brown County State's Attorney's office and the AG's office.  The case presented by the prosecution was described as being composed of "perjured Grand Jury testimony, falsified documents and perjured affidavits to try and convict" Schwab and Taliaferro of acts they did not commit.  When Taliaferro filed an appeal to have his record expunged of the false charges,  Jackley persisted in claiming the charges were justified, even though all the legal proceedings indicated they were not justified.  

Although this case is a classic example of malicious prosecution, none of the participants in the prosecution were in any way disciplined.  It reveals the cancerous defects in state law and the justice system based upon it.  In many ways the real scandal is in the law.  It exempts officials from any responsibility to the people they allegedly serve and permits them to serve themselves at their pleasure.  

The Scwab-Taliaferro prosecution and its dismissal on the grounds of lack of evidence has not gone unnoticed by people who work in justice and wrongful conviction projects.  What a number of legal scholars who reviewed the case have noted is the absence of any response by the South Dakota Bar Association.  The Brown County State's Attorney was found to have a serious conflict of interest between her duties as a prosecutor and a contract attorney for the Department of 
Social Services,  which led her to file the criminal charges and proceed with the prosecution.   The whole affair raised serious questions about competence and honesty in the State's Attorney's office,  which the judge alluded to in dismissing the case.  The Bar Association purports to be the agency in charge of monitoring the integrity of its profession,  but the absence of any reaction to a carefully planned and executed abortion of justice that was eventually stopped by a judge belies the state of the justice systems in South Dakota.  The Bar Association seems more dedicated to the promotion and protection of shystering than to any principle of justice.  

Such is the environment in which the EB-5 and Gear-Up scandals with their suicides and murders have grown.  They were not things that just happened.  They were made possible and encouraged by bad law and the people who wrote those bad laws and tend them--and the voters who put the officials  in office and allow bad law to foster corruption. 

The remedy?  Don't jerk. Don't Jackley.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States