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Former SD trooper denied early release from prison

Brian Biehl, 48, of Platte, right, listens during a Feb. 13 meeting at Platte-Geddes High School in Platte. (Jake Shama / Republic)

A former South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper was denied a reduction in his prison sentence, despite significant local support to allow him to be released before Christmas.

Brian Biehl, 48, of Platte, appeared Tuesday at the Davison County Public Safety Center in front of Judge Chris Giles. Biehl was sentenced in March after pleading guilty to taking $69,668 in money confiscated during drug searches while he was employed as a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper.

Biehl, represented by defense attorney Theresa Maule Rossow, asked for a three-month reduction of sentence, making him eligible for release before Christmas. Giles denied the request and said Biehl should have been charged with multiple felonies instead of one charge of grand theft.

"I have to think about the cases that were compromised because of your actions," Giles said. "The court's concern is you did not do this one occasion, this was done numerous times."

Biehl, who was originally sentenced by now-former Judge Tim Bjorkman, is currently serving five years in prison at the Yankton Community Work Center and is eligible for parole as of June 24. Biehl also paid a fine of $10,000 in addition to his court appointed attorney fees.

The courtroom was filled with approximately 40 people, including Biehl's family, friends and community members. Both Biehl and his wife of 28 years, Mary Biehl, gave lengthy witness testimony on why a three-month reduction in sentence should be granted.

"I was very proud to be in law enforcement and part of the Highway Patrol, and I understand they are upset," Biehl said during his testimony. "I am very grateful these guys still stand behind me."

Since being incarcerated in March, Biehl has served 312 hours of community service and qualified for work release. Biehl now works seven days a week at Pro Auto Body in Yankton while he is serving his prison sentence.

Giles said he reviewed more than 100 letters of support from members of the Platte community and friends and family of Biehl, asking Giles to grant the reduction in sentence.

An exhibit presented was a letter written by Carla Grosshuesch, Department of Corrections case manager at the Yankton Community Work Center, which states Biehl has been under good behavior and is in full compliance with the Department of Corrections' criteria for an extension of confinement.

A letter from Lyman County Sheriff Steve Manger supported the request to allow a reduction of sentence for Biehl.

"I do not want to downplay the situation that he got himself into nor minimize his involvements what so ever," the letter states. "Brian did wrong and there is no doubting that. Knowing Brian the way I know Brian, I also feel confident saying that he has learned his lesson and that he has regretted his actions from the beginning."

But the severity of Biehl's actions compromised several drug investigations, according to Brule County State's Attorney David Natvig.

"He brought a black eye to law enforcement," Natvig said.

Several family and friends sitting in the court started to cry and hugged Biehl as he walked out of the courtroom.

Biehl was found to have taken evidence money between May 21, 2012, and Oct. 19, 2016, while he was an employed as a law enforcement officer.

On Oct. 21, 2016, nearly $4,000 was discovered missing from a case. Biehl later confessed he had been keeping evidence money since a drug bust in 2012. According to court documents, Biehl said he intended to repay everything he took but said he needed the funds because he was "short on money."

He was charged with grand theft of more than $5,000 and less than $100,000, a Class 4 felony.

Biehl will continue to remain in custody at the Yankton Community Work Center until he is eligible for parole in seven months.