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Shooting of horses sparks racial tension in Lake Andes

LAKE ANDES — A Charles Mix County man is charged with shooting horses in an incident that some Native Americans claim was racially motivated.

Ray Johanneson is accused of shooting five horses — four of which reportedly died — on July 23 that belonged to his neighbors Lori Abdo-Smith and Charlie Smith. Johanneson is white, and Abdo-Smith is a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

During court proceedings Tuesday, Magistrate Judge Gordon Swanson set a Jan. 31 trial date. Johanneson faces five misdemeanor counts of killing or injuring an animal of another.

Attorney Timothy Whalen pleaded not guilty on Johanneson’s behalf Tuesday.

Whalen, in a later interview at his Lake Andes office, said the case has taken on racial overtones fanned by a September article on the Indian Country Today website titled “ ‘How Could Anyone Have So Much Hate?’: New Kind of Range War in So. Dakota.”

The article suggests the horse shooting manifested a long-simmering antipathy in the area against Indians. Indian people make up about 32 percent of Charles Mix County’s population.

The article reads, in part:

“Another source of pain is that Abdo-Smith and her husband, Charlie Smith, believe the shootings were motivated by racial intolerance. ‘[Johanneson’s] always complaining about us Indians getting too much,’ she says. ‘He’s been bragging all over town about how he shot my horses and how happy he is that I am so hurt!’ ”

The Daily Republic could not reach Abdo-Smith for an interview.

Whalen called the Indian Country Today article “inaccurate” and “biased” and the “worst piece of reporting I’ve ever seen.”

“Its author wanted to create racial tensions and that is not what this is about,” Whalen said. “It’s about five horses destroying crops for five years on a regular basis.”

Asked if Johanneson shot the horses, Whalen said, “We’re denying the charges and I can’t give any more details on it right now. We’re pleading not guilty.”

Charles Mix County State’s Attorney Tom Deadrick said Deputy State’s Attorney Scott Podhradsky will handle the prosecution.

It took some time to determine if the incident occurred on land under state or tribal jurisdiction, Deadrick said, but it was eventually determined the incident did not occur on tribal land.

Killing or injuring an animal of another is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty upon conviction of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Whether or not the charges will go to trial remains to be seen, Deadrick said.

“There’s a difference in calling for a trial and actually going to trial,” he said.

If the conflict isn’t settled out of court, Deadrick estimated the proceedings might take one or possibly two days to resolve at trial, depending on the number of witnesses called by the defense.

“I keep hearing allegations that race is involved in this,” Deadrick said, “but as far as our office is concerned, race is not involved. This is a case in which someone is alleging criminal activity and race doesn’t make any difference on it.”