BASIC COMPLAINT of Eric Sage, Plaintiff
On August 7, 2007, South Dakota Highway Patrolman Dave Trautman charged me with a violation of SDCL 22-42A-3, “possession of paraphernalia,” even though its owner admitted possession of the “paraphernalia,” and in spite of the obvious fact that I was riding a motorcycle and she was in a pickup with the purse containing the “paraphernalia.”
On Aug. 23, 2007, at arraignment, I asked for a dismissal of the charge on the basis that there was no evidence that I possessed paraphernalia. My request was denied, and arraignment was continued to Oct. 15, 2007.
On or about Oct. 11, 2007, Deputy Pennington County State’s Attorney Gina Nelson left a message on my telephone answering machine, informing me that she would increase the charge from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class 1 misdemeanor-- SDCL 22-42-15, “ingestion of a substance other than alcohol for the purpose of intoxication.”—if I did not plead guilty to the “paraphernalia” charge.
On Oct. 15, I pled not guilty, and the paraphernalia charge was withdrawn. DSA Nelson then instituted the charge of “ingestion.” I was scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 21, 2007.
On Oct. 16, HP Trautman filed a “South Dakota Highway Patrol Case Report”, a requirement when a Class 1 misdemeanor is alleged. This report was written nine weeks after the incident it describes.
On or about Nov. 1, Pennington Co. State’s Attorney Glenn Brenner told a reporter that he was going to transfer the case to Meade Co., because the “ingestion,” that he now alleged occurred, would have occurred, according to him, at my campsite near Bear Butte.
On or about Nov. 1, I retained a lawyer, Rena Hymans, of Sturgis. After receiving and reviewing the evidence, she called DSA Nelson several times between Nov. 16 and Nov. 21. Hymans left several messages asking DSA Nelson if she intended to proceed with the preliminary hearing. DSA Nelson did not return the calls.
On November 21, I drove from Sidney, Nebraska to Rapid City on icy highways, damaging my pickup when I hit a road sign as a result. When my attorney and I inquired at the Pennington County Clerk of Courts, we were handed a piece of paper that stated that the charges had been dropped on November 16.
The three trips to Rapid City for appearances, my lost work time, the damage to my vehicle, and my attorney’s fees have created $4027.00 in expenses to me, attributable jointly and individually to the DEFENDANTS, who acted conspiratorially and maliciously, and contrary to law, standard procedure, common sense, and common human decency to deprive me of justice by forcing me to expend money to defend myself against accusations made without evidence.
A more detailed narrative of the events that occurred since HP Trautman stopped me
On August 7, 2007, I was traveling eastward on Interstate 90 near milepost 71, on my motorcycle, when I was pulled over by So. Dak. Highway Patrolman Dave Trautman, who claimed that I had been “weaving” in my lane.
Traveling ahead of me, in my pickup, were three friends. When I stopped, they stopped just ahead of me.
After HP Trautman ticketed me for not having a motorcycle endorsement on my Nebraska driver license, he asked me to wait beside my bike while he talked to Jorge, who was driving my pickup. HP Trautman asked Jorge for permission to search my pickup. Jorge gave permission.
HP Trautman searched my pickup and found a pipe and baggie (with an insubstantial amount of content said to be marijuana) in the purse of Barb, one of the passengers. Barb admitted to possessing the purse and its contents.
HP Trautman ticketed the three people in my pickup for a violation of SDCL 22-42A-3, “possession of paraphernalia.” He ticketed me for the same offense, although no evidence suggested I possessed paraphernalia. All the evidence available demonstrated that I was not guilty of the charge. Quite simply, it was impossible; I was in a different vehicle.
We were allowed to continue down the road.
HP Trautman compounded his errors on Oct. 16, when he conspired with DSA Nelson to provide a case report so that she could increase the severity of the charge from a Class 2 to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
HP Trautman lied in the arrest report when he said, “Mr. Sage stated that there was a pipe or a baggy in the glove box.” HP Trautman also lied in his report when he said that he asked if I smoked marijuana from the bag in Barb’s purse, and that I stated “yes.”
If HP Trautman had believed, at the time he stopped me, that I had “ingested,” he would have arrested me for driving under the influence.
Accusing people of a crime without supporting evidence is not within a law enforcement officer’s duties or rights. HP Trautman is at least partially responsible for the expenses I incurred. As a result of HP Trautman’s unconscionable acts, I was forced to travel to Rapid City numerous times, missing work and incurring expenses, to defend myself against a malicious, unsupportable accusation.
Deputy Pennington County State’s Attorney Gina Nelson should be held responsible for prosecuting a case against me with evidence that demonstrated my innocence of the charge.
DSA Nelson had numerous opportunities to mitigate the damage being done to an innocent person by HP Trautman’s orginal baseless charge, i.e., SDCL 22-42A-3, “possession of paraphernalia.” She chose in every instance to compound the offenses committed against me.
At my first court appearance, on Aug. 23, 2007, I asked for dismissal, based on the fact that another party had admitted to the offense of which I was accused. Add to that the fact that I was in a different vehicle from the party who admitted guilt. DSA Nelson refused.
At that point, I had not yet seen HP Trautman’s dashboard camera videotape, which demonstrated my innocence, and made clear that I would likely prevail at trial. I was granted a continuance of my arraignment until I had a chance to review the evidence. My next appearance was scheduled for Oct. 15.
The evidence that showed my innocence of the paraphernalia charge was delivered to me by mail about Oct. 1. HP Trautman’s dashboard videotape stopped, oddly, in midsentence, just as Trautman stated the lie, “Everybody’s admitted smoking weed….”
Prior to that, however, the videotape shows Trautman searching the pickup and bringing a purse and its owner to the car, where he is heard asking Barb if the pipe (the “paraphernalia”) in the purse is hers. She replies that it is hers.
On or about October 12, Deputy State’s Attorney Gina Nelson left a message on my answering machine, threatening that if I didn’t plead guilty to “possession of paraphernalia” that she would charge me with “ingestion”.
Instead of reviewing the tape and deciding, as a reasonable person would, that justice would be served by dismissing the “paraphernalia” charge against me, she decided to take a case with flimsy (at best) evidence and make it a case with no evidence.
When I appeared on Oct. 15 and pled not guilty, she increased the charge to SDCL 22-42-15, “ingestion of a substance other than alcohol for the purpose of intoxication.” A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Nov. 21, on the new charge.
Understanding at this point that I was facing a state-employed lawyer who was simply attempting to extort a guilty plea and several hundred dollars from someone she hoped would cave in to threats of prosecution for crimes he did not commit, I hired a lawyer, Rena Hymans, of Sturgis.
Ms. Hymans asked for and received the “evidence” that I had received, along with HP Trautman’s newly-concocted “case report.” During the several days between Nov. 16 and Nov. 21, Ms. Hymans called DSA Nelson several times and left messages asking if Nelson intended to proceed with a preliminary hearing. Nelson did not return any of the calls, even though she had signed a dismissal order on Nov. 16.
I drove a round-trip from Sidney, Nebraska, to Rapid City on Nov. 21 to receive a notice of dismissal of the charges, missing one more day of work and damaging my vehicle in an accident on icy roads.
Deputy State’s Attorney Nelson acted like a blackmail artist throughout this affair. The evidence clearly showed that I was innocent of the charge originally made by HP Trautman. One might forgive her taking a second shot at making me pay up and go away; the State’s Attorney’s office thrives on convictions, not dismissals of bogus charges.
However, when I refused to admit guilt of an offense (possession of paraphernalia) of which I was not guilty, DSA Nelson appears to have begun to take this personally. She then conspired with HP Trautman to concoct details relating to a relatively minor incident, one among likely dozens, perhaps hundreds, in Trautman’s experience over the course of the intervening nine weeks between Aug. 7 and Oct. 16, that would justify increasing the charge to “ingestion.”
When my lawyer entered the case, DSA Nelson appears to have decided she had punished me nearly enough for my refusal to admit falsely to guilt and to pay her extortion money. However, she decided to add a final insult.
Knowing that I would have to incur the expense of a final trip to Rapid City and pay my lawyer for her time to come to Rapid City on Nov. 21, DSA Nelson refused to return a simple phone call that would have notified my lawyer that the charge was dismissed.
Having had multiple opportunities to do what a reasonable person would have done, at every opportunity DSA Nelson chose the path designed, and known to her, to create the opposite of justice. In so doing she not only violated the trust placed in her by the taxpayers and voters, she violated her own oath of office and the tenets by which lawyers are assumed to abide.
Deputy State’s Attorney Gina Nelson should be held individually financially responsible for the expenses I incurred in defending myself from charges she knew to be false, or at the very least, unproveable in court. Her actions demonstrate petulance, improper conspiratorial acts, and unprofessionally rude behavior.
DSA Nelson, wielding frightening authority, within the solemn public trust, acted like an ordinary street grifter trying to mug a “mark.”
The Office of Pennington County State’s Attorney should be held accountable for the actions of Deputy State’s Attorney Gina Nelson.
There came a point in the affair, “State of South Dakota vs Eric Sage,” when State’s Attorney Glenn Brenner became aware of its detail. Whenever that moment occurred, the Office of Pennington County State’s Attorney became a party to this lawsuit.
At that point, as State’s Attorney, employer of Deputy State’s Attorney, a reasonable person looking at the evidence held against me, would have said something like, “Ms. Nelson, I don’t think we can win this; I don’t even think Mr. Sage is guilty. We should probably spend our time in this office prosecuting criminals. Call Mr. Sage today and tell him we are dropping the charges and extend our apology for having caused him inconvenience.”
Instead, the Pennington County State’s Attorney chose to endorse a ludicrous path.
With a concocted Highway Patrolman’s report stating that I said that I had smoked marijuana the day of my traffic stop, SA Brenner told a reporter (on or about Nov. 1) that the ingestion had occurred in Meade County, so he would transfer the case to that county.
From the point he became aware of the details until I had traveled to Rapid City one last time on Nov. 21 only to be told the case had been dismissed, Pennington County State’s Attorney Glenn Brenner, and therefore the Office itself, became a party to a childish, grimy extortion scheme undertaken under the color of authority.