OPINION — The death of Joe Boever, of Highmore, last year has generated a lot of news coverage, from South Dakota media as well as outlets across the country.
That’s because the man who ran over and killed Boever was South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The fatal crash happened on Sept. 12 as Boever walked along Highway 14.
It’s been a national news story, but we have yet to hear from Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who responded to the fatal crash. The longtime lawman has refused to speak with reporters.
I have known sheriffs like him before. Their media policy is a complete lack of information. They don’t release anything, and are reluctant to answer any questions.
It’s wrong, and it’s not the best way to inform the people they are paid to protect and serve. But that’s the reality. A lot of news goes unreported.
Another example was a raid by ATF and FBI agents in Highmore — yes that town again — last summer.
Elissa May Schultz, 40, has been charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, sale or transfer of firearms to a prohibited person and making false statements during the purchase of a firearm.
Schultz was indicted by a federal grand jury on Oct. 14, and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno on Jan. 21, where she entered a not guilty plea to the indictment.
According to the indictment, Schultz knowingly possessed a firearm in Highmore on Aug. 27 while being an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance. Court records indicate the drug was marijuana.
She faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. Restitution may also be ordered.
Stacy Alan Hansen, 52, also was indicted on Oct. 14 by a federal grand jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He entered a not guilty plea on Jan. 27.
According to a Department of Justice release, Hanson possessed multiple firearms on three occasions in 2020: Jan. 24 in Pierre; Aug. 17 in Highmore and Feb. 9 in Miller.
Hansen, who was released on bond pending trial, faces up to 10 years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. Restitution may also be ordered.
The case’s most dramatic moment was the raid on a home and commercial building in Highmore. Nick Nemec, a former Democratic legislator and area farmer, said local residents witnessed it.
“This last summer there was an ATF and FBI raid in Highmore. Lots of vehicles that said ATF or FBI on the door and agents with ATF or FBI on the back of windbreakers,” Nemec said. “Guns drawn, in plain sight in two locations, one residential and one a business.”
One of the buildings raided was a meat locker, he said.
“It is actually a series of adjoining storefronts on the corner of Commercial Avenue and Second Street. About a month ago one of the storefronts on the end of the assembly was torn down,” Nemec said. “I think that portion of the deal was used for equipment storage. There are still some meat rails and a 60 gallon cast iron pot with burner laying on the now exposed floor.
“I know people who lost meat in that meat market either because of theft of meat or rot,” he said. “A portion of the building has been demolished. A local man used to own it and sold it, the guy he sold to went bankrupt and someone from I think Mobridge bought the assets but never ran the business. Eventually after several years vacant I think he rented the facility to the guy arrested in the raid.”
So while locals may witness an interesting event, it goes unreported to a larger audience. That’s not uncommon in small, rural areas, which are “news deserts,” where little original reporting is done.
The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, an initiative of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina, has been studying and reporting on this issue since 2016.
Its report “The Rise of a New News Baron and the Emerging Threat of News Deserts” stated that as major newspapers withdraw from smaller communities and broadcasting companies are consolidated, often small weekly newspapers are left to cover a massive area.
Many do a wonderful job. But they have small staffs who must sell ads — which they need to survive — handle subscriptions, design the paper and, if there’s time, write a story or two. Much of what is published is sent in by correspondents or local residents.
While daily newspapers no longer are distributed in many rural areas, the internet does bring news to people in virtually any location. Facebook distributes tons of information, draining resources from local media outlets.
That has helped cause a decline in local reporting.
“We also highlighted the significant diminishment in quality and quantity of news that occurs as a result of financial constraints on the industry and the rise of newspapers owned by investment entities, such as hedge funds and private equity firms,” according to The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. “Many newspapers have become ghosts of their former selves, both in terms of the quality and quantity of their editorial content and the reach of their readership.
“Therefore, there is a risk that news deserts are emerging not only in communities without newspapers but also in areas with significantly diminished newspapers. This puts large swaths of the country — especially those that are rural and economically struggling — at risk of becoming news deserts.”
That’s how federal agents can conduct a raid in a South Dakota town, and there are no news reports about it.
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