CHAMBERLAIN - The Brule County State's Attorney has been removed from a case after the defense accused him of filing a complaint to improve his access to a nearby deer stand.
Seventy-six-year-old Robert Surat, of Platte, is charged with aiding, abetting or advising intentional damage to a highway or bridge for allegedly instructing his son, Brett Surat, to dig up a section of 359th Avenue, a dirt road, on Nov. 13, 2015.
Surat was interviewed by Brule County Deputy Scott Powers, and Surat allegedly said a hired man removed an old fence and disked up the right of way because someone was driving in his field. He was indicted on Dec. 10.
In court documents, Surat's attorney, Thomas Clayton, said Brule County State's Attorney David Natvig drove in the area on Nov. 13 and saw the alleged damage. He asked Natvig in February to reveal the complainant's identity. Natvig allegedly declined to reveal the information.
In an email exchange beginning Sept. 1, Clayton accused Natvig of filing the complaint with the intent to get Surat to pay for a new road to convenience Natvig's trips to a deer stand he set up in the area.
Natvig responded and said he saw the damage but did not witness the alleged incident, and he said the complainant was Powers, to whom Surat allegedly admitted the offense.
During a hearing on Sept. 6, Clayton again asked the court to compel Natvig to disclose the information, a request that was approved. Natvig responded two days later, and Clayton said he admitted to being the complainant.
"(Powers) recalls that I had mentioned the damaged section line in northern Brule County. He believes he already had information relating to that, he does not remember specifically," Natvig said in the email thread. "I speak to Deputy Powers on pretty much a daily basis about issues like the section line damage. That is part of what I do."
In his next message, Clayton asked Natvig to recuse himself and later asked for support from the court.
"What was and is he hiding? This last point alone should weigh in favor of defendant's constitutional right to effective counsel and to face this witness against him," Clayton said, according to court documents.
On Sept. 12, the defendant filed a motion to recuse Natvig so the defense could call him as a witness. Natvig responded two days later, saying photographs of the road and Surat's admission are enough to prove the road was damaged.
"Whether or not Natvig saw the damage to the road does not make him a necessary witness," Natvig said in court documents.
On Sept. 15, the defense submitted information to support its request to disqualify Natvig from the case, in which it listed numerous questions, including why he brought charges against Robert Surat instead of Brett Surat. With a trial scheduled for Sept. 26, Judge Bruce Anderson approved a motion to delay.
On Oct. 7, Natvig moved to remove himself from the case due to an "ongoing attorney-client relationship" with Surat. The judge disqualified Natvig from the case on Oct. 14 and appointed Craig Parkhurst.
Surat objected to Natvig's motion a few days later, saying Natvig has never represented him.
A jury trial is now scheduled for January. If convicted, Surat faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.