Sheriff-elect in northeast SD to have license suspended until felony bar fight case is settled
PIERRE, S.D. — For now, Roberts County in the far northeast corner of South Dakota doesn't know who its sheriff will be in January.
That's because Sheriff-elect Korey Ware, a 28-year-old former Sisseton police officer and a current deputy sheriff, has been accused of seriously injuring another man in an apparent bar fight in nearby Aberdeen and is facing felony aggravated assault charges.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standard and Training Commission unanimously voted to continue the case and decided that when Ware is sworn in on Jan. 7, along with other county officials, that his certification as a law officer be immediately suspended and that he be placed on administrative duties.
The Roberts County Commission should then appoint an interim sheriff, said the commission, until Ware enters a plea or a jury decides his fate in a trial. He also faces alternative charges of simple assault.
Just a day before his hearing in Pierre, Ware had an arraignment hearing in court in Aberdeen on Wednesday on the assault charges and entered a not guilty plea and asked for a jury trial.
Judge Richard Sommers scheduled a tentative jury trial for Feb. 6-7, with back up dates of Feb. 27-28 and March 28-29.
The fight took place about 1:35 a.m. Oct. 6 at or near The Zoo Bar on Main Street in Aberdeen. A grand jury indicted him, according to Brown County state's attorney Chris White, and Ware was arrested Oct. 25.
That was just days after Ware was hired as a Roberts County deputy on Oct. 1. And it was just months after Ware was elected sheriff in a two-man race in a June primary. Ware had no competition in the November election so he wasn't even on the ballot.
Roberts County Attorney Kay Nikolas said Thursday that she couldn't comment on the case because it was a personnel matter..
However, she said the county commissioners would discuss the sheriff's situation at its board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, and could decide on an interim sheriff for the county of about 10,300 people.
The current sheriff, Jay Tasa, who didn't return calls after numerous attempts to contact him, won't continue in the job as he was elected register of deeds for Roberts County. There are four other deputies listed for the department.
In Thursday's state board hearing, the eight-member commission called into question Ware's capability to serve his elected office, and the legal precedent for the unique case.
Ware's attorney, Tom Sannes of Webster, said under his understanding of the law, the commission couldn't prevent Ware from taking his oath of office in January.
Throughout the hearing, Sannes kept emphasizing the need for due process before the commission.
"We are trying to work through this but we have to have an opportunity to have a full hearing. That's all we're asking." Sannes said.
However, Commissioner Tom Wollman, a state's attorney in Lincoln County, asked, "I f he was charged with second-degree manslaughter, or first-degree manslaughter, or first- or second-degree murder, would you expect that this board allow him to be sworn as sheriff with just a suspended license?"
Sannes replied to Wollman's hypothetical, "I can only work with the facts of this specific case."
Wollman said he had concerns about someone with a violent offense, and said the commission has handled DWIs and misdemeanors before, "but it's a violent, general-intent crime. It's a Class 3 felony. It's a serious matter."
"From our perspective, our job is to certify the character fitness of law enforcement and I think a suspension is us saying he does not currently possess the requisite character fitness. I understand that he has a right to trial and a right to exercise all that but should he be sworn into sheriff with that cloud?" Wollman asked.
Nonetheless, the decision for him to be sworn in and then have his suspension immediately take effect was passed unanimously by the commission.
However, compounding Ware's troubles is that the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is centered in Roberts County, has called for Ware to not take office.
In a statement by Tribal Chairman David Flute, he said the charges "have created apprehension by tribal leadership for the public safety and treatment by law enforcement of our tribal members and non-Indians living on the Lake Traverse Reservation and within Roberts County."
"The confidence in law enforcement will suffer if Ware is allowed to serve his term," the chairman said.
Flute added that it raises doubts about his ability to "treat members of this community fairly and without excessive force."
The tribe's law enforcement service often works with the Roberts County sheriff's department.