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Thirsty's court case raises awareness of hundreds of cameras surveilling Mitchell

Many local businesses are utilizing surveillance equipment in an effort to deter potential criminals and capture footage of any incidents.

Of 30 Mitchell shops, restaurants, gas stations, bars and organizations contacted by The Daily Republic recently, 21 of them reported having some type of surveillance system. Of those, 17 confirmed having multiple cameras monitoring different areas of their business. By the number of cameras mentioned, it's clear that there are hundreds of surveillance cameras in this city of roughly 15,000 residents.

"We use it as a part of our business every day," said Cabela's Store Manager Mike Fox, who chose not to reveal any further details about the surveillance system at the Mitchell Cabela's.

A local business' surveillance video may play a role in an upcoming trial against a Mitchell bar manager accused of assaulting a North Dakota man at Thirsty's Bar in Mitchell last September.

Thomas Somerville, 38, of Mitchell, is charged with simple assault for allegedly grabbing 36-year-old Clint Dreyer by the throat and shoving him to the ground inside Thirsty's on Sept. 30. Footage taken from a surveillance camera inside Thirsty's is purported to show the alleged assault, but Somerville's attorney, Cynthia J. Ahrendt, of Sioux Falls, has motioned to suppress the footage for the upcoming trial, which is scheduled for April.

Many of Mitchell's public buildings also utilize surveillance technology.

The Corn Palace had no security cameras until 2007, when a $25,000 federal Homeland Security grant went toward installing a $30,000 surveillance system featuring 26 cameras on the building's interior and exterior, according to Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling.

Since 2007, three additional cameras have been added to cover additional areas in and out of the Palace, Schilling said.

"If we get reports of someone running around or being obnoxious, we can actually take a quick look and see what is going on rather than confront the person right away," he said.

Schilling is able to monitor the building using television screens in his City Hall office.

"You never know what the situation is going to call for," he said.

Schilling said the cameras have been utilized by law enforcement as part of investigations.

The Corn Palace shares its exterior security cameras with City Hall.

Although cameras monitor the exterior of City Hall, there are none located inside the building itself. Schilling said adding cameras inside City Hall is still an option being considered by city officials.

Mitchell Assistant Police Chief Maj. Leon Baier said the city's Public Safety Building makes use of surveillance cameras to monitor all its entrances at all times, but chose not to provide any further details of the system.

Baier said it is routine for police to ask local businesses if they use security cameras when responding to an incident.

The Davison County Public Safety Center, which includes the county jail, sheriff's office and a courtroom, uses about 60 security cameras to monitor the facility, according to Davison County Jail Administrator Don Radel.

The Public Safety Center's security cameras are monitored at all times by staff in the facility's control room. Through a computer network, Radel is able to monitor the system from his office, and he and other staff can access it outside the building and in patrol vehicles.

While the system was installed during the construction of the Public Safety Center in 1996, Radel said the vast majority of the original equipment has been replaced or upgraded.

The Mitchell School District uses approximately 132 security cameras to monitor its five schools, according to district Vice President of Technology Dan Muck.

About 110 of those cameras were installed in 2005 at a cost of $215,000, funded in part by a federal Homeland Security grant of $107,500. The remaining cost was covered by district funds.

Muck said the district purchased additional cameras for the Mitchell Middle School about two years ago to increase the amount of surveillance.

The school district's security cameras are in operation at all times, but only start recording when motion is detected, Muck said, and no cameras are placed in classrooms.

"Within two weeks of being installed, everybody forgot (the security cameras) were even there," Muck said. "They have not ever been an issue. It's a part of life nowadays."

Chris Huber/Republic Surveillance cameras hang on the south wall of the Corn Palace in Mitchell.