Three days into the trial of former South Dakota state’s attorney Brandon Taliaferro and court appointed special advocate (CASA) Shirley Schwab, the judge in the case has dismissed all of the charges following the conclusion of the prosecution’s case. The two had been charged with subordination of perjury and witness tampering, along with misdemeanor charges of false reporting, obstruction of justice, and unauthorized distribution of child abuse and neglect information. Taliaferro and Schwab have alleged that the charges were brought in retaliation for them having stood up against South Dakota DSS and government officials to protect Native American children, and this line of argument has been advanced in some news stories, and by organizations sympathetic to that argument, such as the Lakota People’s Law Project. The best source I know of to get up-to-date information on this matter is Scott Waltman, reporter for the Aberdeen News. [Edit: This story in the Aberdeen News is informative.]
Very briefly, here’s my understanding of the facts of this situation. It was discovered that Richard Mette, the adoptive father of several Native American children, had been sexually abusing at least one of the children. He eventually pled guilty to raping one of the children as part of a plea bargain. Taliaferro was serving in the state attorney’s office and was involved in prosecuting the case, and Schwab was a CASA worker for the children. Richard Mette’s wife Gwendolyn Mette was also criminally charged based at least in part on an allegation by the children that she knew about the abuse. Those charges were later dismissed. The essence of the allegations against Taliaferro and Schwab is that they tried to get the children to lie about Gwendolyn Mette having known about the abuse and/or tried to get the children’s therapist to get them to lie about her having known about the abuse.
I note that, if true, these are serious allegations. Fabrication of evidence by a prosecutor can easily lead to miscarriages of justice and the ruination of lives. However, it appears that the evidence against these two was very questionable. It appears to me that the judge granted a “judgment of acquittal” following the prosecution’s case. The legal question asked when doing so is “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” If I am interpreting this news correctly, the judge did not believe that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for a rational juror to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants committed any of the crimes they were accused of. I will be curious to see further reporting on what evidence was presented at trial.