HURON, S.D. ? As a full-blown AIDS scare swept the campus of Si Tanka Huron University and tribal leaders warned that it might be exploited for anti-Indian purposes, an 18-year-old athlete remained in custody in the Beadle County Jail.
Nikko J. Briteramos was arrested April 23, the first individual charged under a South Dakota law allowing the prosecution of people suspected of intentionally passing on the HIV. He was charged with five counts of allegedly violating SDCL 22-18-31, intentional exposure to HIV infection ? a felony offense. All counts were related to one partner.
If proven guilty in a court of law, Briteramos faces up to 15 years in prison, up to a $15,000.00 fine or both. He is being held in the Beadle County Jail on a $10,000 cash bond. He is still innocent until proven guilty.
The South Dakota Department of Health confirmed three cases of HIV infection in Huron. South Dakota Secretary of Health Doneen Hollingsworth, Director of Disease Control Bonnie Jameson, Deputy Attorney General Larry Long and the state attorney for Beadle County Michael Moore came to Huron to announce the arrest.
According to their reports, Briteramos, a star on the university's basketball team, donated blood during a campus blood drive in March. Testing of the blood showed a positive result for the HIV infection. His name was turned over to the State Department of Health. Briteramos gave state health officials the names of two sexual partners, but a third not on the list had alleged continued to have sexual relations. The third alleged victim was being tested for the presence of HIV.
Briteramos was scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing May 2.
The issue has caused a scare for the residents of the small town in northeastern South Dakota and has potentially damaged Si Tanka's efforts to recruit students.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Gregg Bourland charged that some of the hysteria might stem from resentment over his tribe's purchase of the formerly private Huron University here. "We think there is a motive behind that," he said. "There are some people that have never wanted to see the tribe own that college. We wonder if they would have given it that kind of attention had it been under non-Indian ownership."
Bourland said state officials didn't contact tribal officials when they were about to arrest the student. The state has made no effort to include tribal officials in the investigation, he added.
The campus struggled with financial problems in the early days after its merger with the tribally owned Si Tanka College, but it had just begun an aggressive recruitment effort. Some fear the media attention to the Briteramos story might damage the school's reputation.
"I have asked for a report," said Bourland. "Right now, we don't have much information. As the news broke, we were disappointed that the media exaggerated the story. There was a lot of hype that came out of that."
"A little bit of the press that was given by some of the newspapers, more specifically the non-Indian press, we felt was detrimental to the well being of the school without checking all the facts. I think they sensationalized the whole thing," he said.