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DOJ files suit against Rapid City hoteliers that announced Native American ban

Federal authorities cite the lawsuit stems from an email chain in which one owner allegedly told various hotel owners and managers in Rapid City that she doesn’t want to allow Native Americans on property belonging to her.

Rapid City (1).jpg
Rapid City.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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RAPID CITY, S.D. — The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against two Rapid City hoteliers alleging steps taken to ban Native Americans from the property violated the Civil Rights Act.

The lawsuit, filed against Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge in northern Rapid City, alleges that owner Connie Uhre and her son, Nicholas, denied access to Native American patrons in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and other places of entertainment.

Federal authorities cite the lawsuit stems from an email chain in which Connie allegedly told various hotel owners and managers in Rapid City that she doesn’t want to allow Native Americans on property belonging to her.

“I really do not want to allow Natives on property. Every time we have problems I call the police with it, the first thing they ask is what nationality is he or she and 98% of the time I have to say native, and we call at least once a week,” an email from Connie reads. “They kill each other walk around with guns... The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad natives...so we just have to say no to them!!”

Following the email, to which Nicholas “did not disavow or otherwise disagree with, Connie allegedly posted to Facebook that Native Americans would no longer be welcome to the hotel or sports bar.

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“Do to the killing that took place at the Grand Gateway Hotel on March 19 2022 at 4 am plus all the vandalism we have had since the Mayor and Police Department are working with the non profit organization ( Dark Money),” her comment read. “We will no long allow any Native American on property. Or in Cheers Sports Bar. Natives killing Natives. Rancher and Travelers will receive a very special rate of 59.00 a night. Book Direct.”

Court documents allege that on the following day, on March 21, two Native Americans entered the hotel and inquired about rates. As the booking process was underway, the employee allegedly refused to rent the rooms, citing a policy — which was not in writing at the time — that rooms could not be rented to “locals,” a policy which the employee said came from “Nick.”

On March 22, five Native Americans, each representatives of a Rapid City-based non-profit, attempted to rent five rooms. They were allegedly told the hotel was not renting rooms. After showing an employee an Expedia website that indicated rooms were available, the employee allegedly acknowledged vacancies, but told the group that the hotel was “not really renting out rooms right now.” The employee told the group the policy came from management.

In the lawsuit, the Department of Justice argues that the conduct of the businesses “constitutes a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights” by Native Americans and that said practices are in violation of federal law.

The Department of Justice requested a federal court find the businesses’ actions in violation of the Civil Rights Act and enjoin the defendants from engaging in further discriminatory practices.

“Restricting access to a hotel based on a person’s race is prohibited by federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell for the District of South Dakota. “At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we are called to ensure that individuals are treated equally at public accommodations in South Dakota. We are committed to protecting that fundamental right for Native Americans.”

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division agreed.

“Policies prohibiting Native Americans from accessing public establishments are both racially discriminatory and unlawful,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously protect the rights of all people to go about their daily lives free from discrimination at hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations around the country.”

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No hearing dates have been scheduled for the case as of Wednesday afternoon.

This is a developing story. Check back with Forum News Service for updates.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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