Minnehaha County lifts restrictions, State’s Attorney braces for busy summer of cases

Local News

The Minnehaha County Commission is lifting COVID-19 restrictions, bringing the area closer to what commissioners call a “new normal”. Commissioners unanimously voted to rescind the May 6th recommendations that businesses limit the number of people inside and for how many people are at public gatherings. They’re basing this on local hospitals being able to handle the current COVID cases. You will likely see local businesses, county buildings, and even people you interact with shift back to the way they did things pre-COVID.

“Businesses need to get back to business,” Jean Bender, commission chair, said.

“Easing the restrictions is appropriate now. I know Sioux Falls is looking at it also and the small towns are looking at Sioux Falls to see what they will also do,” Jason Gearman, Minnehaha County emergency manager, said.

The County Administration Building will re-open on June 3, the day after the election. The County Courthouse will resume trials on June 15. State’s Attorney Crystal Johnson says three months of no jury trials has increased the caseload for attorneys in her office.

“I know the attorneys are kind of bracing for the storm,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the felony case count from January to now is at 4,900, up 200 from the same time last year. Assault cases are at 773, up 150. Here’s another way COVID is affecting the local criminal justice system. To follow safety guidelines, the county tweaked the bond system, meaning certain suspects could bond out of the jail before facing a judge.

“One of the consequences we’re seeing from that is our failure to appears. Our failure to appears in April was about 60-percent. If we had 100 cases scheduled in April, about 40 people were showing up,” Johnson said.

Time will tell to see how the county will re-adjust. However, the pandemic is not over. Commissioners say it’s up to everyone who lives here to follow safety guidelines and practice good hygiene.

“We want to reiterate, we know there are people who are still at risk here and we don’t want to minimize that. We don’t want to minimize the heartache a lot of families have experienced over the last two and a half months,” Bender said.

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