STURGIS — District 29 State Sen. Gary Cammack said the sealing of his court case was not an attempt to receive preferential treatment or hide it from public view.
Cammack, a businessman, politician, and Meade County rancher, said Monday he wanted to set the record straight concerning details of his arrest for driving under the influence and speeding as well as the subsequent sealing of the case.
“There’s a substantial amount of misinformation out there. It’s one of those deals where, especially in politics, it seems like if you respond, it just creates another firestorm,” Cammack told the Pioneer. He did not elaborate.
But Cammack did respond through his attorney, Nathaniel Nelson of Sturgis. He directed him to share the circumstances surrounding the arrest and sealing of the case. Nelson did so in a three-page letter to the Black Hills Pioneer and the Rapid City Journal.
Cammack ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of careless driving and speeding, both Class 2 misdemeanors. He received a suspended imposition of sentence on both, which would seal the record from public view.
Cammack grew up in Meade County and graduated from Sturgis Brown High School. He and his wife, Amy, operate Cammack Ranch Supply at Union Center along with a cattle ranch. He has served on the Meade County Commission and in the South Dakota House of Representatives. He is currently the state senator for District 29 which includes portions of Butte, Meade, and Pennington counties. He was elected Senate majority leader in 2021.
Because of his state leadership position, Cammack’s arrest became statewide news in recent weeks. But more interesting than the arrest itself came news that the case was sealed, and it would take a judge’s order to unseal it.
This saga began about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, when Cammack and his wife were traveling along Highway 34 from their home in Union Center to the home of their son, Reed, whose leg had been broken by a cow earlier that day.
Sgt. Todd Albertson of the South Dakota Highway Patrol said in his arrest report that Cammack was headed east on Highway 34 driving a 2015 Gray Honda Pilot. Albertson noted that Cammack’s vehicle had its high-beam headlights on and appeared to be speeding. The trooper’s radar indicated Cammack was traveling 54 mph in a 45-mph zone.
Albertson said after Cammack’s vehicle was stopped, he approached the driver’s window, identified himself and informed Cammack of the reason for the stop.
“I could detect the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from inside the Honda,” Albertson wrote.
He asked for Cammack’s license, but Cammack said he forgot his wallet at home. Albertson asked Cammack to accompany him to his patrol vehicle.
“I could detect the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from Cammack’s person. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy,” Albertson wrote in the arrest report.
Cammack told the trooper he had not eaten supper and his last and only drink was a whiskey-Coke about 10 to 15 minutes prior to the trooper stopping him.
Nelson said that Cammack consented to a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) which did not provide probably cause for his arrest. The legal limit for alcohol by weight in the blood in South Dakota is .08.
Cammack, wearing calf-high muck boots, then agreed to perform the standardized field sobriety tests and exercises. Based on Cammack’s performance, he was placed under arrest for driving under the influence, Albertson wrote.
“After informing him that he was not free to go, he stated that he is a legislator and asked if there was another test he could do. I explained that there was not and what I had just had him perform,” the trooper wrote.
A second PBT was administered to Cammack about 15 minutes after he was stopped. It registered .082 – or .002 above the legal limit to drive.
“The results of the second PBT, while not admissible in court, is strong evidence that Mr. Cammack was under the legal limit at the time he was stopped and would have remained under the limit until he reached his destination had he not been pulled over,” Nelson said.
Cammack also consented to a blood draw for testing which later showed his BAC was .07%. Nelson noted that number is below the legal limit.
About 20 minutes into the stop, Albertson said he read Cammack his rights, placed him in handcuffs, searched him and sat him in the back seat of the patrol car for the hour-long drive to Sturgis to the Meade County Jail.
Trooper Albertson noted that Cammack was cooperative during the arrest process and released to the jail staff. Cammack spent the night in the Meade County Jail and bonded out the next day.
Cammack was charged Jan. 21, 2020, with driving under the influence in Meade County District Court. Pennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Alexandra Weiss prosecuted the case.
Nelson said because of Cammack’s position as an elected official, prosecutors from Pennington County were called in.
Cammack pled not guilty to the first-offense DUI charge, a class one misdemeanor, on Feb. 4, 2020.
Nelson said he wanted to take the case to a jury who would most certainly acquit him of any charges of driving under the influence based on the evidence, but Cammack believed jury trials to be expensive and would expend a tremendous amount of public resources.
Cammack’s attorney and the prosecutors later reached a plea deal in the case.
Court papers show the DUI charge was dismissed-reduced over a year later on June 29 with a charge of careless driving filed instead.
He was ordered to pay a fine of $431.50 for the careless driving charge and $39 fine for the speeding ticket, in addition to $222 in court costs. Conditions of the disposition included paying the fines and costs, and to violate no laws for a period of six months.
Cammack’s attorney said he believed the record had been sealed after the June 29 hearing, but later learned, through a string of emails to the Meade County Clerk of Courts, that it had not been.
“The state did not object to granting Mr. Cammack the immediate seal he was entitled to, but the clerk responsible for correcting the paperwork snafu was unable to address the request until Monday, Oct. 4,” Nelson said.
Nelson goes on to say in the letter to the Pioneer that political blogger (Corey Heidelberger of Dakota Free Press) discovered the record of Cammack’s arrest on Oct. 5, and later returned to find the record sealed.
“The sealing of Mr. Cammack’s record was the final step in a common and lawful process occurring thousands of times a year in South Dakota,” Nelson wrote. “But the coincidental timing of those events did nevertheless appear suspicious, even though it was not.”
Nelson said that Cammack, as an elected official, wanted to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and that the integrity of South Dakota’s judiciary be seen as beyond reproach.
“That is the reason he has elected to voluntarily share the private details of this private matter with the public so the public can be assured that Mr. Cammack neither requested, nor received, any preferential treatment from the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the State’s Attorney charged with prosecuting him, nor the judiciary charged with imposing and eventually suspending execution of his sentence,” Nelson said.
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