Nick Tilsen thought he had a deal: participate in a diversion program, and the state would drop the charges against him and nineteen others arrested for peacefully protesting Kristi Noem’s fascist hate rally at Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2020. But the NDN Collective‘s president and CEO may have misheard something:
“As far as Nick Tilsen is concerned, none of his charges have been dropped,” said Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo to Native News Online. “We have agreed to a diversion program, which includes an admission of guilt and, according to the statement that was made on Monday, it appears Tilsen isn’t taking responsibility for his criminal behavior.”
The diversion program at the Pennington County State’s Attorney Office is open to people with no or little criminal history. Participants usually must stay out of trouble for a year and complete court-mandated tasks to improve their behavior and life and the charge and arrest will be expunged from a person’s record.
“As far as the agreement with Tilsen is concerned, there is no such contract, yet,” said Vargo. “Usually, it will include a person to be system free for a year, but before that contract is signed, there must be an acknowledgement of felony criminal behavior” [Darren Thompson, “All Charges Dropped Against Mr. Rushmore Protestors Except NDN Collective’s Nick Tilsen Who Must Fulfille Diversion Program,” Native News Online, 2021.03.24].
Evidently there is still no such contract, and Tilsen is headed to court:
Since that decision in March, Tilsen says he hadn’t heard anything from Pennington County State’s Attorney’s office until a few days ago when they informed him that the case is moving forward, setting a status hearing date.
In rebuttal, Tilsen filed his own motion, asking for the dismissal of all charges [Miranda O’Bryan, “Nick Tilsen Requests July 3, 2020 Arrest Charges Dropped During Courthouse Gathering,” KOTA-TV, 2021.07.02].
Tilsen claims Vargo has reinstated charges in violation of the agreement he thought he had as punishment for Tilsen’s March announcement:
In his motions for dismissal, Tilsen claims his remarks to the media were protected by the First Amendment. The documents claim the state’s decision to reinstate Tilsen’s charges were directly connected to his protected speech and were reinstated as punishment for it, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Tilsen’s attorneys also claim the delay in executing the agreement and then reinstating the charges violated Tilsen’s right to a speedy trial and that the new demands effectively force Tilsen into silence on issues he believes in.
“The prosecutor has abused their position of power and privilege to try to silence myself. These are all grounds for dismissal,” Tilsen said Friday outside the Pennington County Courthouse. “Here we are, another lie made to our people by another white man in power. And we’re tired of that” [staff, “Oglala Lakota Leader Seeks Dismissal of Protest Charges,” AP, 2021.07.03].
Meanwhile, NDN Collective protested this “Fourth of You Lie” in Rapid City, with four protestors arrested for scaling the Dakota Mills Grain elevator to hang a large American flag upside down with the slogan “LANDBACK”.