Two Former Rapid City Cops Differ on Allender’s Record on Race Relations

Steve Allender
Steve Allender

Mayor Sam Kooiker is making white-tribal relations a big issue in the Rapid City mayoral campaign. In Sunday night’s televised debate with candidate and former police chief Steve Allender, the incumbent asked his challenger if he would knowingly hire an applicant with a history of making racial slurs and jokes (Kooiker’s question and Allender’s response begin at 8:40 in this video).

Kooiker is referring pointedly to accusations leveled in a 2009 lawsuit by Glen Yellow Robe, a twenty-year veteran of the Rapid City police force who said that as chief, Allender fostered racial discrimination and harassment in the Rapid City Police Department:

This case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken, who took notice of discriminatory and racial jokes around the work place by Allender and others, but felt Yellow Robe was a willing participant in the race-based banter.

Allender confirmed the offices of the Rapid City Police Department, during his time as a patrol officer and in a supervisory role, was a “frat house” type of environment. He admits to using work time as a place for practical jokes, public humiliation of officers, and inappropriate relations between a supervisor and subordinate [Richie Richards, “Former Police Chief Runs for Mayor in Rapid City,” Native Sun News via, 2015.04.15].

In Sunday’s debate, Allender did not deny making racially offensive comments. But in response to Mayor Kooiker’s question, he suggested that the mayor himself makes racial slurs and downplayed such racist statements as just another form of human fallibility that wouldn’t stop him from hiring someone:

We hire human beings in these jobs, and I assume the mayor is insinuating that he’s never made such a terrible slur, but I was the subject of a lawsuit twenty—something that happened twenty, twenty-five years ago that was alleged that I either laughed at or told Native American jokes twenty-five years ago. So we hire people with all kinds of things, with DUIs on their record, with theft charges, with all kinds of evidence of misbehavior, and we weigh into that how far apart from that incident until now and make that good hiring decision [Steve Allender, televised mayoral debate, Black Hills Fox, 2015.05.03, timestamp 9:10].

Hmm… I’m not sure that saying, “I’ve bet you’ve never made a racial slur!” is the wisest response. If we look at Yellow Robe’s account of the racial slurs aimed at him and another officer on the Allender police force (cover the kids’ ears, please), Kooiker and most citizens can likely say, “Actually, no, I never have said such awful things, at work or anywhere else”:

“I would be eating lunch and Steve would say, ‘What’s on the menu today, a bowl of guts?’ Or if I was eating a sandwich he would say, ‘What you eating, a slab of lab?’ You know Labrador, a dog,” he said. “Then it rubbed off on the secretaries. I was right out in the squad room and I’d be sitting there eating a sandwich and the secretaries would say, ‘What you having today Glen, a slab of lab?’”

Glen said fellow officer Bruce Evans, who was Jewish, was also subjected to Allenders’ racist remarks.

“There was one incident when Bruce was eating and Allender asked, ‘What you eating today, foreskin kabobs.’ You know Bruce put up with just as much as I did. Allender nicknamed him Heimy (Derogatory term for a Jew),” he said.

“One of Allender’s favorite sayings was ‘Black is beautiful, and brown is grand, but whites the color of the big boss man.’ He would always be quoting that around the squad room,” Glen said. “He’s always been a racist kind of person and even at one point and time I confronted him about it he said, ‘If you think I’m bad you should meet my dad. My dad is the most racist guy in Belle Fourche’” [Ernestine Chasing Hawk, “Cop from Rosebud Endured Years of Discrimination,” Native Sun News via, 2015.05.07].

Yellow Robe alleges not just one racial slur but a pattern of ongoing racist comments fostered among the rest of his staff.

Former Rapid City police officer and Flandreau police chief Ken James, a Santee Sioux, comes to Allender’s defense on Facebook:

I am supporting Rapid City Mayoral candidate Mr. Steve Allender in the June 2nd election. As a former Native officer serving the fine citizen’s of Rapid City over a decade, it was a honor to work side by side with a dedicated public servant. I believe in Steve’s leadership having received his support and assistance when building the new Flandreau joint City/Tribal Police Department. In December 2012, a female tribal officer feared for her life by an ex-boyfriend who was in Rapid City making threats to phyically harm her during LNI. I called Chief Allender for the Tribal Chief of Police and he told me to fax the Tribal Protection Order and they will locate and serve him. Chief Allender called me back shortly after telling me they served the Tribal court papers and arrested him on warrants. The Tribal Chief and the officer were impressed how he expedited and handled the situation. The female officer was nearly in tears relieved for her children and her safety. I ask my friends, colleagues, who supported and worked with me in Rapid City to stand with me in electing real leadership. The late Rapid City Mayor Art LaCroix is a tribal citizen from Santee and my relative. He would be endorsing Steve Allender [Ken James, Facebook post, 2015.05.08].

One former employee says the candidate for mayor created a racist and hostile work environment with his words. Another says Allender took action to help a tribal officer and another jurisdiction’s city-tribal police force. How do we weigh those items on the record in this job interview?

10 Responses to Two Former Rapid City Cops Differ on Allender’s Record on Race Relations

  1. Steve Hickey

    Good grief. Disqualified.

    Kooiker cares.

  2. Nick Nemec

    The racist and anti semitic jokes far outweigh doing his job in the incident involving serving the protection order and the arrest on outstanding warrants.

    Kooiker is the better pick.

  3. Bob Newland

    “White’s the color of the big boss man.”

    Kooiker, by virtue of his blond hair.

  4. Roger Elgersma

    Allender learned bad from his Dad. Do we want a generation of kids learning bad from him? I do agree that doing good is better than talking bad, but if cops are going to be our finest, they can not make this big of a mistake and still be called our finest.
    Another question is, if that Native lady was not a relative of a cop, would she have been protected? Cops do have a tight buddy system.

  5. I still don’t see why we can’t have a “none of the above” choice. If NOTA gets the most votes, other candidates must be found! I know where I would be casting my ballot! Sheesh!

  6. Douglas Wiken

    I have heard the need for “None of the above” in RC elections many times before.

    I am not at all convinced that ex-cops or ex-prosecutors are at all suited for executive positions in other areas or judicial positions. They come with a set of attitudes putting themselves above law and everybody else targets of the heavy thumb of enforcement.

    Both candidates are over-loaded with religion which gives them the impression God is on their side no matter what position they have. Despite that, I think Sam Kooiker is basically honest. I do wonder about his flexible use of “too much government” when it suits him and disregard of it when that when heavy hand of government is used to oppress or aid corporations if that is his pleasure.

  7. Speaking as someone whose family has been hurt in the past by the current mayor’s manic thirst for power and recognition, he is not the sunshine and roses a lot of people think him to be. For someone who goes around complaining about closed door and off the record meetings, he sure seemed to have a lot of them while trying to ferret out information he choses to release at a time that most benefits him, rather than bringing any complaints to the proper authorities right away. I have never met Steve Allender, so I can’t speak to what kind of person he is or was. However, I don’t say this lightly, but I firmly believe that Sam Kookier is an evil person who is only out for himself and what he perceives makes him look good.

  8. anyone doubting whether racism exists in SD (or RC) should read the rapid city journal comments to the renaming Harney Peak article concerning the unanimous decision by the SDBGN, unless they don’t want to be sickened.

    a good friend of mine was once jogging in RC, perhaps on the west-side, and was reminded she was on the wrong side of town, “in jest of course”, by a previous police chief, who rolled down his window and just had to comment, as he was wont. tone-deaf?

    this wasn’t allender, but many can guess who. that allender would say the stupid things he is claimed to have said, squares with his noticeable right wing cynicism/sarcasim on his twitter page. I am inclined to agree with nick.

  9. Roger Cornelius

    Allender isn’t a racist, just ask Doug Wiken.

  10. Well, in at least one case the pot could be said to be calling the kettle black:

    “In evaluating whether there was unwelcome racial harassment in the Police Department, the court must also look at the conduct of Mr. Yellow Robe. He acknowledged using the “n” word as a Rapid City Police Officer. (Docket 90-1 at p. 21:6). Mr. Yellow Robe called a police detective, who was Jewish, “hymie” once in a while. (Docket 72-1 at p. 226:5-14). He also laughed at Jewish jokes. (Docket 90-1 at p. 21:14). On at least one occasion Mr. Yellow Robe made a sexual comment about his wife, Geraldine Yellow Robe, and a particular color of lipstick. (Docket 90-1 9 at p. 66:19-67:4). Mr. Yellow Robe referred to his wife in a sexually offensive
    way when talking to another police detective. (Docket 90-1 at p. 67:5-9).
    Mr. Yellow Robe, an Oglala Lakota, and his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Louie Lange, a Rosebud Lakota, would share jokes back and forth. (Docket 72-1 at p. 55:21-56:4). I n the squad room, Mr. Yellow Robe would joke with his brother-in-law “that the Oglala [Native Americans] use clear plastic trash bags so they could see what they were having for lunch . . . .” (CIV. 09-5040-JLV).
    Everyone harbors negative opinions about others at some level. Denying one’s own racism and projecting it onto another is hardly a solution. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.