RAPID CITY, S.D. - Ten young athletes from a Pine Ridge boxing club are recovering emotionally after they were held at gunpoint by Rapid City police for more than 45 minutes following a report of an alleged gang fight.
This incident occurred only days before the release of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report investigating South Dakota race issues and Native Americans' belief that there is a dual system of justice.
Following a 911 call reporting a gang fight involving weapons, police pulled over a van ordering the occupants, at gunpoint, to exit and lie on the pavement, believing they were involved and carrying weapons.
Pam Janis, an assistant coach with the North Ridge Boxing Team reported that the "20 or so cops had all their guns drawn" on the boys ranging in age from 12 to 21. No weapons were found after a 45-minute search.
"They overreacted big time. It was so scary, somebody could have been shot," she said.
The youngsters were all shaken up after the incident, some of them crying as they made their way back home. They were bruised and scratched. Janis said some parents are discussing the incident with attorneys.
The boys' boxing team was in town to participate in an amateur boxing match at the Mother Butler Center against members of the Rapid City boxing club. Janis said they have been coming to Rapid City for years for the mini-matches, often called "smokers." There have been incidents with members of the Rapid City club, who often wanted to fight outside the center after regulated bouts, she reported.
"We are treated and respected everywhere but here, especially by the Rapid City club," she said. Rapid City boxing club coach Eddie Martinez said, "I have nothing to say about that garbage."
March 26, after the alleged altercation Saturday night, the team was on the way to a fast food restaurant before heading home. Janis said two passing juvenile males threw rocks and a piece of lumber at the van, urging the occupants to fight.
Police Capt. Christopher Grant said the department received a 911 call around this time reporting a gang fight involving guns at the intersection of Watertown and Pine streets.
"We have a high degree of responsibility whenever we receive a call about a suspected weapon, for the safety of the public, the police and the parties involved." Grant said every action taken by the police was part of the protocol for a suspected weapon call.
"The officers did what they had to do to preserve public safety."
Police have questioned the person who made the 911 call and determined it was an honest mistake. The caller thought he saw a gun. They also know the individuals involved in the altercation but determined it was a verbal confrontation with no weapons involved.
"It's an extremely unfortunate incident. We're sorry the Pine Ridge boxing club had to finish the visit in our city like this," Grant said.
"This is an on-going harassment issue with the cops in town," said Dale Looks Twice whose 13-year-old son was in the van. "We shouldn't have to deal with this. I'm stunned."
Looks Twice, an active member in the Pine Ridge community and a proponent of civil rights issues for the Lakota Nation, said the incident comes down to blatant racism and discrimination against Native American people.
He said it's ironic how an incident like this happens only days before the release of the civil rights commission report. "I'm disappointed with what happened. It's sad to see things like this still happening."