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Atwood will face charges

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LAKE ANDES, S.D. - The charge of choking a young member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe by a Lake Andes police officer will be answered in court.

Magistrate Bruce Anderson ruled Aug. 8 that Michael Atwood would have to stand trial for the July 4 incident.

Charles Mix County State's Attorney Scott Podhradsky told the court Atwood lost control and choked a young boy because the youth got a little lippy.

Ben Cournoyer, 12, and two of his friends were doing pranks in the city park when Officer Atwood saw them. He lectured them and then, as witnesses assert, he picked Cournoyer up by the throat and choked him.

Cournoyer told the court Atwood picked him up high enough to be on his "tippy toes."

Three adults and the three boys, whose stories remain the same, witnessed the incident.

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Atwood's attorney, Craig Parkhurst argues the witnesses didn't see what they believed they saw.

However, based on testimony from the witnesses, Anderson concluded there was sufficient probable cause to move the case to trial. In a brief statement he said the crime of simple assault was committed and "this defendant did it."

That's not enough for Mayor Mike Dangel. He stood by Atwood all along and continues to argue that Atwood is not guilty until proven so by a trial. Dangle said Atwood will remain on the police force.

Julie Wedell, tribal attorney, said the fact Atwood is still on duty shows a lack of respect for the people involved in the incident and for the minority community of Lake Andes.

Members of the Dakota Lakota Nakota Human Rights Advocacy Coalition protested outside the courthouse during the hearing and demanded removal of Lake Andes City Attorney Tim Whalen. Whalen advised the city council to keep Atwood on duty.

A second Camp Justice in the state is set up at the Lake Andes pow wow grounds. The first was started on the Pine Ridge Reservation just north of the town of White Clay, Neb. Camp Justice members there wait for the results of a more than a year-long investigation into the brutal deaths of two Pine Ridge tribal members.

At Lake Andes the scene is clouded with racial tension. Not only do the Yankton Sioux tribal members accuse the city of racist actions, an African American resident, married to a tribal member, found racial slurs painted on the side of his home.