South Dakota Lacks State Law On Law Enforcement Transparency

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South Dakota doesn’t have a state law regulating law enforcement pursuits of suspected criminals.

There also isn’t a state law regarding the video cameras that law enforcement officers use in their government vehicles and on their bodies while on duty.

Instead, there is a broad exemption that lets law enforcement withhold criminal investigation information from the public.

An exemption means that information doesn’t have to be released. In many instances it’s to protect other people involved in the matter.

The criminal information exemption is just one of more than several dozens of exceptions in South Dakota’s public records laws.

In this instance, the exemption specifically states:

“Records developed or received by law enforcement agencies and other public bodies charged with duties of investigation or examination of persons, institutions, or businesses, if the records constitute a part of the examination, investigation, intelligence information, citizen complaints or inquiries, informant identification, or strategic or tactical information used in law enforcement training.”

There are two exceptions to the exemption. The law goes on to state:

“However, this subdivision does not apply to records so developed or received relating to the presence of and amount or concentration of alcohol or drugs in any body fluid of any person, and this subdivision does not apply to a 911 recording or a transcript of a 911 recording, if the agency or a court determines that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in nondisclosure.”

The exemption has two more caveats.

One is a requirement the state attorney general compare fingerprints of an arrested suspect with those in the state Division of Criminal Investigation file and notify the arresting officer if the arrested person has a criminal record or is what the law describes as “a fugitive from justice.”

The other caveat allows limited information to be shared about calls for service made to law enforcement agencies. The agency can reveal the date, time, general location and general subject matter. But even that broad information can’t be released if it contains criminal intelligence, would jeopardize an ongoing investigation, or identify information about a mental health, chemical dependency or abuse intervention. 


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of law enforcement agencies twice in the past 10 years in lawsuits alleging officers shouldn’t have pursued.

The justices in the 2007 Scott v. Harris case decided 8-1 in favor of a Georgia deputy sheriff who rammed his vehicle into another vehicle driven by a suspect attempting to race away. The wreck left the suspect a quadriplegic.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion: “The court rules that a police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.”

The justices in 2014 again ruled for law enforcement in another pursuit case, Plumhoff v. Rickard. Two law enforcement vehicles had the suspect’s vehicle stopped in Memphis, Tennessee. The suspect continued to gun the engine trying to force his way out.

An officer tried to open the vehicle’s door. The suspect put the vehicle in reverse, then drove forward again. While this was occurring, three officers shot 15 rounds at the suspect and the passenger. They hit the suspect 12 times and the female passenger twice. Both died.

The court’s majority said: “At the moment when the shots were fired, all that a reasonable officer could have concluded was that Rickard was intent on resuming his flight and that if he was allowed to do so, he would once again pose a deadly threat for others on the road.”


California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on October 1 a law-enforcement disclosure policy approved by legislators there. It requires release of audio or video recordings after an officer shoots at a person or an officer’s use of force leads to death or great bodily injury.

Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, opposes the new law. Marvel issued a statement saying it shifts the burden onto a department by stating all footage shall be released unless the department can show with clear and convincing reason why it shouldn’t be released. 


Here is pursuit data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from the federal National Highway Traffic Administration for 1996 through 2015 from South Dakota and the six neighboring states:

South Dakota

Pursuit-related deaths per 100K: 4.5

Pursuit-related deaths (1996-2015): 35 (11th lowest)

Violent crimes per 100K (2015): 383.1 (22nd highest)

Bystander deaths (1996-2015): 7 (tied for 6th lowest)


North Dakota

Pursuit-related deaths per 100K: 1.9

Pursuit-related deaths (1996-2015): 12 (2nd lowest)

Violent crimes per 100K (2015): 239.4 (10th lowest)

Bystander deaths (1996-2015): 5 (4th lowest)

Minnesota

Pursuit-related deaths per 100K: 1.4

Pursuit-related deaths (1996-2015): 72 (20th lowest)

Violent crimes per 100K (2015): 242.6 (12th lowest)

Bystander deaths (1996-2015): 28 (the lowest)

Iowa

Pursuit-related deaths per 100K: 1.3

Pursuit-related deaths (1996-2015): 39 (tied for 14th lowest)

Violent crimes per 100K (2015): 286.1 (18th lowest)

Bystander deaths (1996-2015): 3 (2nd lowest)

Nebraska

Pursuit-related deaths per 100K: 1.6

Pursuit-related deaths (1996-2015): 29 (9th lowest)

Violent crimes per 100K (2015): 274.9 (15th lowest)

Bystander deaths (1996-2015): 7 (tied for 6th lowest)

Wyoming

Pursuit-related deaths per 100K: 4.5

Pursuit-related deaths (1996-2015): 23 (tied-6th lowest)

Violent crimes per 100K (2015): 222.1 (8th lowest)

Bystander deaths (1996-2015): 4 (3rd lowest) 

Montana

Pursuit-related deaths per 100K: 3.4

Pursuit-related deaths (1996-2015): 32 (10th lowest)

Violent crimes per 100K (2015): 349.6 (25th highest)

Bystander deaths (1996-2015): 10 (13th lowest)

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