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Allegations of police brutality in Wagner under investigation

WAGNER, S.D. - The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation will investigate allegations the city police chief used excessive force during the Oct. 19 arrest of a homeless and mentally challenged American Indian woman.

Several members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe were among the more than a half dozen witnesses who accused Wagner Police Chief Ed Zylstra of going too far when Sharon K. Gullikson, 42, of Wagner was forced to the ground in the middle of the small city's Main Street.

Witnesses, who filed complaints with BIA law enforcement officials, said the police chief handcuffed her, then yanked her up by the cuffs, cutting her wrist. Gullikson was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

However, witnesses said the woman made no attempt to resist arrest.

Tribal members said Gullikson was in and out of tribally-operated apartments, in and out of alcohol treatment programs and relied on medication because she suffered from severe mood swings.

They said that on the day she was arrested, she had been drinking raspberry wine with friends in an alley, trying to avoid being caught with an open container or arrested for public intoxication. She went to a local grocery store and one of the owners asked her to leave after she requested money from a customer.

Gullikson then reportedly walked to a pawn shop where she bought a pair of earrings for 25 cents. Meanwhile, witnesses said, patrol cars appeared at the grocery store. Store owners said they didn't file any charges against her.

Observers said Gullikson walked to a small drug store and that Zylstra honked the horn on his patrol car and beckoned to her. They said she wasn't drunk when they watched the resulting assault.

Zylstra refuses to comment, but Wagner Mayor Ken Dvorak defended the actions of the police chief and told the media Zylstra's version of the story suggests Gullikson knocked Zylstra down first.

Gullikson was taken to the Wagner IHS hospital for medical treatment of injuries to her wrists.

This is the most recent in a series of incidents tribal members said were motivated by race. They accused the city's police department of racial profiling earlier this year. The city denied the charges and police said they were stopping tribal members to serve outstanding warrants.

South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett forwarded the matter to the state Department of Criminal Investigations after receiving the complaint from the BIA.

The incident has fueled tensions on the Yankton Sioux Reservation and Chairwoman Madonna Archambeau expressed anger at the department for its treatment of the tribal member.

"I didn't expect that from the chief of police," Archambeau said.

Witnesses who watched the events unfold said the woman did nothing to provoke Zylstra.

Larry Weddell, who watched the arrest from across the street, filed a report with the BIA police because of what he called his outrage at seeing the treatment of the woman.

"She never attacked him. She wasn't trying to get away or assault him. There was no need for this attack. What he did was totally uncalled for."

Jean Tiger, who also witnessed the event, said she was stunned by the turn of events. She also reported the incident to the BIA.