A closer look at complaints inside the State Penitentiary

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Two leaders for the South Dakota Department of Corrections are on administrative leave following an internal review into the State Penitentiary. An anonymous complaint that prompted the investigation lists six different areas of concern for employees.

The concerns in the anonymous complaint range from not having competitive pay to allegations of sexual harassment and nepotism. The writer says people are being promoted because they are friends or family members, and accuses officers in charge of “attempting to persuade employees sexually.” Another area of concern is officer safety and equipment.

The complaint that triggered an internal review of South Dakota’s Department of Corrections alleges that employees have the “cheapest, bottom of the line equipment.” It says body armor is not up to standards and “corners are cut” during inservice trainings that “does not provide confidence for our officers.”

This isn’t the first time we are hearing about safety concerns in the prisons.

KELOLAND News has been investigating the state’s prison system since 2016. That’s when Angela Kennecke brought you the story of Zane Mathis, a former correctional officer severely beaten by a dangerous inmate. Mathis told KELOLAND Investigates then that the Department of Corrections failed to protect him or help him after the attack.

“They didn’t have a process or a standard for anything. They didn’t look for risk, or calls for help. I was just like, a guinea pig,” Zane Mathis said in May 2016.

Following that interview, other former correctional officers reached out to KELOLAND Investigates with their own stories, including Donald Henderson who came forward because he was concerned about high turnover and staff shortages.

“Most of the officers are actually doing doubles during those times to cover those shifts that the secretary said aren’t left open. There are–there’s spots every day left open–every day. That’s why I’m here. I’m not here to bring down the institution,” Henderson said in June 2016.

Previously, Dennis Kaemingk, the then Department of Corrections Secretary, had said this regarding open positions:

“We do not leave posts unattended. There may be time when someone is called away from a post; there may be a time when someone is called away from a post to respond what is going on in another part of the facility. But our overtime will show we fill our posts,” Kaemingk said in June 2016.

“They really need to put the entire DOC under a looking glass,” Henderson said.

The Bureau of Human Resources did the internal review.

After receiving the results, Governor Noem placed Secretary of Corrections Mike Leidholt and State Penitentiary Warden Darin Young on administrative leave.

KELOLAND News reached out to the Governor’s office to get information on what the review found, but the Governor’s office isn’t commenting.

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