Rapid City Police have identified the suspects who hurled racial slurs and beer at a group of Native American children at a hockey game in South Dakota on Saturday.
Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday the individuals are suspected of spraying beer on a group of 57 students – ages 9 to 13 – from a VIP suite at Rushmore Civic Center Plaza during a Rapid City Rush hockey game.
The students, who are from the American Horse School in Allen, were subjected to racial slurs and told to “go back to the reservation,” according to school chaperone Justin Poor Bear who wrote about the incident on his Facebook wall.
Jegeris said one individual in particular is suspected of inciting the incident. None of the names of the suspects have been released.
“We have identified the person that I would classify as the – who caused the greatest degree of [problems] related to being racist and criminal behavior, and we have identified possible other names that may have been involved,” he said.
The American Horse School board has filed an official police report with Rapid City Police. They have also filed a complaint with the Pennington County State's Attorney and is working to file the incident as a hate crime with federal authorities, Fox News affiliate KEVN reported.
On Wednesday, Rapid City officials met with citizens of the Oglala Sioux Nation at a two-and-a-half hour closed-door meeting. Angie Sam, a parent of one of the students and who was at the meeting, told KEVN that her daughter “is not safe in Rapid City.”
"They were targets of a hate crime because of their skin color, because they were from the rez and they were told to go back to the rez,” she said. “Why do we have to explain that they're hated just because of their skin color? We as parents, we struggle with that, what do we tell them? You know, it's hard.”
Mato Standing High, an attorney representing several of the parents, said at a press conference Wednesday they expect nothing less than an arrest of those who harassed the students.
"The families are expecting justice. In the families’ view, there's nothing short of an arrest that needs to be made,” Standing High said as reported by Andrea J. Cook of the Rapid City Journal.
Beer distributor Eagle Sales rented out the VIP suite where the alleged suspects staged their harassment. President of the company Tom Helland told the Rapid City Journal one of his employees was in the suite at the time of the incident, but that the employee was not aware of the harassment.
Helland apologized for the incident and said he is working with Rushmore Civic Center to get the kids back to a game for a better experience.
Poor Bear wrote that Saturday was the first time some students had ever been to a hockey game.
Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker told reporters the incident is “gut wrenching” and said “apologizing simply isn’t enough.”
“We need to have a full investigation of what took place,” he said.
Rapid City police are looking into assault charges. Hate crime as well as child abuse statutes are also being considered by police.