Couple charged in toddler's death make court appearanceSecurity tight as community brings frustration over drug use to the fore.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
LAKE ANDES — The frustration of a community ravaged by drug-use and drug-related crime was on display Tuesday outside the Charles Mix County Courthouse.
A small group of protesters brandished signs and waved flags as Taylor Cournoyer, 21, and Laurie Cournoyer, 28, both shackled and dressed in jail uniforms, were led inside by law enforcement shortly before 1 p.m. for their initial court appearance. The two are charged in connection with the death of 2-year-old Rielee Lovell, who was found dead July 4 in a tribal housing project in Wagner after being in their care.
According to affidavits filed with court documents related to the case, the couple had been using methamphetamine, marijuana and prescription sleeping pills in the hours after the 2-year-old’s death, and neither was able to tell investigators for sure when they had last seen the girl alive. The death went unreported for more than a day and a half, the documents say.
Each is charged with one count of abuse or cruelty to a minor and failure to notify law enforcement of the death of a child. Both charges are felonies. Each is being held on a $500,000 bond.
An 11-year-old male relative of the 2-year-old has also been taken into custody in connection with the death, but charges have not been filed against him.
After being led into the courtroom, the Cournoyers were seated on opposite sides of the front row until Magistrate Judge Patrick Kiner began the hearing, at which point both moved to the defendant’s table with their attorneys.
Each requested preliminary hearings, which are now scheduled for later this month. Neither requested to have their bond modified, but Laurie Cournoyer’s attorney requested the court appoint an investigator for $3,000. Prosecutors did not object and the request was granted.
Security for the hearing was tight, with state and local law enforcement patrolling the courthouse and checking anyone entering the courtroom with a metal detector.
Outside, frustration with the circumstances surrounding the 2-year-old’s death was obvious.
“Everybody knows that methamphetamine is the problem here, but nothing is being done about it,” said Frances Zephier, of Lake Andes, as she stood with other protestors outside the doors of the courthouse after the brief hearing.
She said the small group consists of concerned parents worried about the consequences of methamphetamine in the community.
“There should be more Indian people standing out here,” Zephier said. “The meth issue needs to come out.”
Their main concern, said Zephier’s husband, Robin Bair, is finding somebody to stop the drug use.
“You see all these cops here, and it just amazes me that these guys are never around,” he said.
Both said Rielee’s death should have been prevented.
“This is just one case,” Bair said. “As long as meth is coming on our reservation, things like this are going to happen.”
His children, Bair said, have been harassed and beaten, and windows on the family’s home have been broken because of their outspoken stance on drug-use in the community.
He said he is scared of future retaliation.
“I know there’s more coming, but we can’t stop it,” Bair said.