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After two-straight appointments, Douglas County to elect first sheriff in over a decade

Three candidates filed petitions seeking to become Douglas County’s first elected sheriff in 12 years.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office display their fleet of vehicles outside their courthouse in 2017.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office display their fleet of vehicles outside their courthouse in 2017.
Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office
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ARMOUR, S.D. — Over the lunch hour on a Thursday, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office might have a visitor or two looking to mingle with their sheriff. Nobody really knows him, because nobody voted for him.

That will soon change, as three candidates are set to square off for the first sheriff’s election in the county in 12 years, after two straight sheriffs were appointed to the office by the county commission.

The last time voters filled in the bubbles for sheriff of Douglas County, in 2010, Troy Strid paced Tim Simonsen by a 75-vote margin. Strid spent just over 300 days in that office before resigning after he was charged with — though eventually acquitted of — petty theft stemming from an accusation that he gave county property to another officer to sell on eBay.

After Strid’s resignation in November 2011, the Douglas County Commission appointed then-24-year-old Jon Coler to succeed Strid. Coler spent just over a decade as sheriff, running unopposed in the 2014 and 2018 elections, before resigning from the position following what the county commission called “a disagreement.”

Scrambling to replace a second sheriff, the commission in December tapped Jim Severson to fill Coler’s position.

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With over 42 years of service in law enforcement, Severson told the Mitchell Republic in December that he plans to fulfill the remainder of Coler’s term, but is ready to retire and doesn’t have much interest in running for reelection.

With the March 29 deadline for candidates to file their petitions to run for sheriff, three Douglas County residents have thrown their name into the ring.

Shane Niewenhuis, R-Corsica

A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Shane Niewenhuis has always had a good relationship with the sheriff’s office, but feels the current state of the relationship between law enforcement and the residents they serve is strained.

Shane Niewenhuis
Shane Niewenhuis

“As a teenager, I respected them and enjoyed talking with them,” Niewenhuis said. “Today, I feel there is some disconnect between the department and the county citizens and would like to restore the relationship for our county and community.”

Though he has no law enforcement experience, he said his managerial and coaching experiences would be an asset to the sheriff’s office.

Working primarily as a full-time farmer, Niewenhuis manages his family’s 123-year-old farm. He and his wife also own and operate Garden Hills Manure Hauling and Garden Hills Pheasant Hunting. In the winter months, he also serves as the head coach of the Andes Central/Dakota Christian girls basketball team.

His work ethic, community involvement and overall presence leads him to believe he has what it takes to be the county’s top cop.

“My hope is to serve our county, so I will invest the time necessary to learn. I will rely on my faith base and work with fellow officers as a team,” Niewenhuis said. “If elected, I will learn as much as possible from the current interim sheriff to ensure a smooth transition.”

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Dustin Palmquist, R-Harrison

Dustin Palmquist has served as a Douglas County deputy sheriff for the past nine years, five of which as a sergeant.

As former sheriff Jon Coler was leaning toward resigning, he mentioned to Palmquist that he thought Palmquist would run for the position in 2018.

Dustin Palmquist
Dustin Palmquist

“I told him I wouldn’t run against the guy that hired me,” Palmquist said, “I started putting some thought toward the different tasks I was given within the office, and I felt that I’m ready to take on that position.”

Palmquist kicked off his career in law enforcement as a deputy in Lyman County in 2011. After about a year, he took a job at Aurora Plains Academy in Plankinton while also serving as a part-time deputy in Douglas County. After a year of working both jobs, he made the decision to go full-time in Douglas County.

Because of Douglas County’s rural composition, it’s not uncommon for Palmquist to give residents his personal cell phone number in addition to the sheriff’s office’s number in case they may ever need help. By doing so, he believes he’s built a bond with the community strong enough to win the election.

“There's a lot of phone calls I get throughout the day thinking my number is the number for the sheriff’s office,” Palmquist said. “The different rapports I’ve already built with the community, they know that if they reach out to me to report a crime, that I'll follow through with it and keep them up to date.”

Also serving as the county’s coroner, Palmquist remembers a saying from his first boss, using it to drive him to continue serving.

“My very first boss I ever had, Sheriff Manger, always said that if someone calls 911 and wants to report something, if they think its an emergency … that an officer should come out and reassure them, even if that means coming out to their house to talk to them,: Palmquist recalled. “That’s the one thing he instilled in me and I keep moving forward with.”

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Chris Reitsma Lau, R-Kimball

Chris Reitsma Lau currently has served as chief of the Kimball Police Department since 2020. She decided to file her petition after “multiple” residents of Douglas County encouraged her to run.

With over 26 years in law enforcement, Reitsma Lau believes her experience patrolling, conducting investigations, maintaining budgets and hiring, training and supervising new officers and employees qualifies her for the position. She also highlighted her ability to fulfill the administrative responsibilities and requirements of the job.

Chris Reitsma Lau
Chris Reitsma Lau

“Experience is something you can’t buy,” Reitsma Lau said. “You can only accumulate it by spending time in the position.”

Though Reistma Lau didn’t obtain her law enforcement certification until 2010, she worked in the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation’s Forensic Laboratory in Pierre for 12 years, examining evidence, responding to major crime scenes and testifying on her results in court.

Since she left the crime lab, she’s served as a police officer in Watertown and as a school liaison, detective and even acting chief in Canton. She also spent two years teaching different aspects of crime scene processing to college students in the Forensics Program at Colorado Technical University in Sioux Falls.

“I feel I am well qualified to lead Douglas County as their Sheriff. My experience, training, and knowledge will be huge assets in taking over the reins from Sheriff Severson,” Reitsma Lau said. “My career has been based on high standards of honesty, integrity, morality, and ethics as well as a strong work ethic. Those are the building blocks necessary to be a law enforcement officer the community can respect and trust. The duties and responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office will be carried out with these core values at its center.”

If she were to be elected, she would move to rural Armour — where her husband currently lives — in accordance with residential requirements of a sheriff under South Dakota law.

Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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