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Obstruction charge dismissed against Mitchell man who refused to comply with Mitchell school mask mandate

State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins agreed on Thursday to dismiss the obstruction charge that Reed Bender, 40, was facing.

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Mitchell resident Reed Bender, right, walks out of the Davison County Public Safety Center alongside his attorney R. Shawn Tornow after turning himself in for an indictment of obstruction of police on Oct. 29, 2020 in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

After a year’s worth of court proceedings and a three-day jury trial, a Mitchell man who was charged with obstructing law officers after he refused to wear a mask during a school board meeting had his charge dismissed.

State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins agreed Thursday to dismiss the obstruction charge that Reed Bender, 40, was facing in connection with refusing to comply with the Mitchell School District’s mask mandate during a September 2020 school board meeting. While the hearing was intended to center around a gag order that would prohibit witnesses and attorneys representing Bender, it instead resulted in a dismissal of the charge.

Bender’s attorney R. Shawn Tornow said the dismissal of the obstruction charge was a win for his client.

“My client appreciates the win today, but he’s wondering why it took this long to come to this decision,” Tornow said following Thursday's hearing at the Davison County Public Safety Center courtroom.

Miskimins said the charge was dismissed without prejudice, which means he could still re-file the charge at a later time. Miskimins declined to comment on the reasoning behind his decision to agree on dismissing the charge.

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Bender still faces a trespassing charge that stemmed from the same school board meeting, when Mitchell Police officers requested him to leave the meeting. The incident resulted in a brief scuffle between Bender and a pair of officers, who eventually escorted Bender out of the meeting.

The trespassing charge that Bender is facing was also reduced to a Class 2 misdemeanor during Thursday's hearing. That means the maximum sentence Bender faces from the trespassing charges is 30 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Prior to the reduction of the misdemeanor offense, Bender faced a maximum sentence of a year in jail and $2,000 fine.

Bender could face a jury trial for the trespassing charge that was filed roughly a month ago unless a plea agreement is reached and agreed upon by Miskimins and Bender.

But Tornow indicated Bender is planning on taking the latest charge to a jury trial.

“Even though this is a Class 2 misdemeanor now, my client still plans on seeking a jury trial,” Tornow said.

Thursday’s hearing came about two months after a Davison County jury could not reach a unanimous verdict to find Bender guilty for obstructing Mitchell police officers during the scuffle that stemmed from his refusal to wear a mask at the 2020 Mitchell school board meeting. Miskimins was initially pursuing to have another trial for the obstruction charge until his agreement on dismissing the charge at Thursday's hearing.

Tornow also requested Judge Donna Bucher recuse herself from the trespassing charge, which will require Tornow to file an affidavit formally seeking a new judge for the case.

Bender is set to appear in court on Jan. 9 for the request to assign a new judge. Tornow did not disclose any further details as to why he is seeking a new judge.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTS
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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