US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates racial discrimination at SD prison

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Published: Apr. 15, 2022 at 9:56 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -As a correctional officer at the Mike Durfee Prison in Springfield for two years, Dallas Tronvold believed he had found more than a job, he planned for it to be a lifelong career.

He says the environment has grown more toxic over time.

“They may deny there’s no nepotism or favoritism, but it’s there,” said Tronvold.

When Governor Noem made sweeping changes to the DOC last summer, she told staff to report issues to their supervisors.

“Complaints typically go up through the Department of Corrections,” said Noem.

Tronvold, a Yankton Sioux Tribal member, says it’s hard to voice concerns to supervisors when they’re part of making racist comments.

“I was called a prairie ***** by a supervisor,” said Tronvold. “A female officer stated, well, when do you guys get your Indian money?”

Tronvold says he was not in the favored group and became a target. While leaving at the end of his shift, he said other staff kept him against his will between two prison gates.

“I asked the sergeant why the gate was shut, and he stated to me, ‘you ain’t going anywhere.’ I filed a report with the Bon Homme County Sheriff and nothing was investigated or done.

Sheriff Maggs told our I-team that the complaint was forwarded to the Secretary of Corrections, while Tronvold reported being held against his will. All of this was unfolding just as the department of secretary position was turning over.

“I came in right as it was transpiring so I couldn’t even speak the truths of in-depth knowledge,” said Wasko.

Tronvold believed his next step was to contact the Governor as he remembered her words when she spoke to DOC employees last summer.

“I can’t take action on anecdotes,” said Noem. “I need them to feel confident to go on the record and share with me what needs to be changed.”

He e-mailed Governor Noem, the Bureau of Human resources, and the Secretary of Corrections about his experiences and other concerns, including inmates having sex with staff.

“She asked the inmate for some honey bun, the inmate stated to swing by his bunk while she’s on her rounds...It needs to be addressed by the proper people in Pierre,” said Tronvold as he read back the e-mail.

In addition to the allegation of staff and inmates having sex, he also offered which cameras caught the activity, so that his claims could be verified.

Noem did not respond.

“I mean, I figured she would correct these situations and she didn’t. She never did anything,” said Tronvold.

His complaints of racism in the workplace are now under investigation by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was terminated and believes it to be in retaliation for speaking up. The reason for termination: creating a hostile work environment and using an improper flashlight.

“It’s unsafe and unhealthy. It’s not a good place to work,” said Tronvold.

We reached out to the South Dakota Department of Corrections and received a response that they were not available for comment as their office was closed for the holiday weekend.

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