SULLY COUNTY, S.D. Drug dogs are usually a great addition to any law enforcement agency and an asset to fight rising drug use in South Dakota. However, one county is saying thanks, but no thanks, to the possible donation of a four-legged member of the force. KSFY first brought you the disagreement between the Sully County Sheriff's Office and the Sully County Commission on Tuesday surrounding the new hire.
It all started back in October of 2016 when the Sully County Sheriff's Office hired Deputy Jordan Anderson. Sheriff Bill Stahl knew Anderson came with a dog and so did the commission, and that the plan was to get the dog certified and use him. Reggie, a black lab, went off to training in Pierre with Deputy Anderson on their own time and completed the 280 hours needed for drug dog training.
The county commission voted 5-0 on not transferring the ownership of the dog from Anderson to the sheriff's office.
"That set off a huge flag, in my opinion, that something was going on. Something wasn't right," says Harry Stiles, a resident of Sully County.
Sheriff Stahl believes a drug dog is needed with the increase of drug use around the area and throughout the state, especially with most of Sully County sitting on Highway 83.
"The drug traffickers tend to stay away from areas with drug dogs, or at least they try to. I don't claim to be fighting the war on drugs, but I want to keep my community safe," says Sheriff Stahl.
Residents around Sully County and the rest of South Dakota are in support of the sheriff's office. One community member started a petition on Change.org with people signing from all over the state. As of 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night, the petition has 240 supporters.
One resident was a former meth user for 20 years and says this drug dog is a great way to keep drugs out. "I know the tricks and trades of getting through towns and stuff when you want to get through with drugs. If there's no drug dog and I knew it back then, I would go through that town immediately," explains James Soderholm, who is a resident of Onida.
Other county residents have seen what drugs can do firsthand to families and want to be as active as possible to keep them out.
Attorney General Marty Jackley is a strong supporter of canines in drug units. As for the case happening in Sully County, he's supportive of it. He appreciates that the community has come to him with questions on if the sheriff is allowed to receive the dog as a gift.
"I think the sheriff does, and the reason I believe that is because a sheriff has a duty and a responsibility to use whatever resources he or she has to protect the public," says Jackley.
Sheriff Stahl doesn't want his community to be set back in time without the use of a drug dog and hopes something positive can come out of this.
KSFY reached out to Sully County Commission Chairman Jerry Richards, who directed all questions to State's Attorney Emily Sovell. We received a statement on the matter from Sovell that was approved by Richards reading:
"There are a number of factors that the Sully County Commission has to consider when investing in any of its public offices. County budget is a significant factor. With increased highway patrolling by a local
deputy with a drug dog, there will likely be increased costs for jail; increased County-paid court appointed attorneys fees; increased budget demands by the local State’s Attorney office; and a plethora of interrelated costs. That is true even if an officer wants to convey a k9 unit to the County without monetary consideration.
The entire population of Sully County is less than 1,400, and the Commissioners looked at more highly populated counties and cities in the region, most of which do not own a k-9 drug unit. The County also looked at the fact that Sully County is contiguous to Hughes County. Neighboring Hughes County houses specialized law enforcement agencies, such as the Highway Patrol, the State Drug Task Force and Department of Criminal Investigation that provide protection to all South Dakota counties. The potential costs and need for such a highly specialized law enforcement tool in a very rural county has been evaluated and not been approved at this time. The Commission will have to continue to research County demands, and budget accordingly in an effort to promote the peace, health and safety of the citizens of Sully County. The Chairman stresses that the Commission is not desirous of making Sully County a ‘drug haven’ as circulated in some social media recently; they support law enforcement in combating crime. Commissioners, however, have to realistically consider all of the foregoing factors.”