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Reed Bender seeks jury trial for trespassing charge stemming from Mitchell School Board mask incident

A new judge was assigned to preside over the case at Bender's request.

Reed Bender File.jpg
Reed Bender is escorted out of a Sept. 14, 2020, Mitchell Board of Education meeting for refusing to wear a mask per district protocols in this file photo. Bender was charged with obstructing a police officer in the incident, but the trial resulted in a hung jury.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — A Mitchell man who was charged with trespassing on school grounds after refusing to wear a mask during a Mitchell school board meeting is seeking a jury trial.

During Monday’s status hearing, Reed Bender’s attorney, R. Shawn Tornow, indicated Bender — who had another charge that stemmed from the Sept. 14, 2020, school board meeting dismissed — is pursuing a jury trial for trespassing instead of a court trial.

If the case goes to a jury trial, a 12-person jury made up of Davison County residents will ultimately decide the verdict on Bender. It would also mark the second jury trial Bender would face for charges related to the Sept. 14, 2020, school board meeting. For a court trial, the judge presiding over the case would make the verdict on the trespassing charge, which is a Class 2 misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted.

A newly assigned judge, Kasey Sorensen, presided over Bender’s hearing on Monday through a live video call. While Davison County Judge Donna Bucher has been presiding over the case, including Bender’s previous obstruction against a law officer charge that resulted in a hung jury, for over a year, Bender, 40, requested a new judge to be assigned for the remainder of the trespassing case.

Tornow declined to comment Monday as to why Bender requested a new judge.

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Although Davison County State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins agreed to dismiss Bender’s obstruction charge that stemmed from a scuffle between Bender and a pair of Mitchell police officers during the Sept. 14, 2020, school board meeting, he filed a new criminal charge against Bender in November 2021.

Prior to Miskimins agreeing to dismiss the obstruction charge, a three-day jury trial was held for the Class 1 misdemeanor offense. After three days of deliberating, a Davison County jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on Bender’s obstruction charge, resulting in a hung jury. Miskimins was pursuing a retrial for the obstruction offense, but the recent dismissal put the case to rest.

In Bender's latest trespassing charge that he’s seeking another jury trial, Miskimins alleges that at the Sept. 14, 2020, school board meeting Bender "defied an order to leave personally communicated to him by the owner of the premises or by any other authorized person."

When officers were called to MHS to address Bender refusing to comply with the school’s mask mandate that was in effect at the time of the board meeting, a brief scuffle ensued. Video footage of the incident shows Bender refusing to leave the school board meeting, and telling officers “You’re going to have to drag me out.”

The recent trespassing charge Bender was indicted on was reduced to a Class 2 misdemeanor during a Dec. 16 hearing when Bender’s obstruction charge was dismissed. Initially, Bender was facing a Class 1 misdemeanor for the trespassing charge, which carried a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

At the next February hearing, Judge Sorensen could set a trial date for the trespassing charge. Tornow requested discovery items that could be used in trial by the prosecution team be submitted within the agreed upon timeline, which he noted was an issue in the previous trial.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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