When I moved to Rapid City on Halloween 2015, I knew only two basic things about the place: it was close to Mount Rushmore and it was where my husband landed a job.
Now, after having worked here as a reporter for two-and-a-half years, I’ve realized that Rapid City never seems to run out of news stories. It was a great place to start my journalism career in the United States.
Not only is Rapid City a jump-off point to Mount Rushmore, it also neighbors an Air Force base (Ellsworth) and the country’s second most populous Indian Reservation (Pine Ridge). Every summer, thousands of bikers roar through Rapid City when they come for the Sturgis bike rally, held an hour to the north.
From the viewpoint of my cops and courts beat, the city is home to the state’s second largest law enforcement agency (Rapid City Police Department). Rapid City is also the second biggest city in South Dakota and located in the state’s second biggest county, so the Pennington County Courthouse has a busy docket. It processes thousands of criminal cases a year.
The federal courthouse in Rapid City, meanwhile, handles the biggest number of felony cases among the 94 U.S. District Courts.
In two-and-a-half years, I’ve covered about 45 state and federal homicide cases, including six murder trials. In May, I reported on a murder guilty plea at Ellsworth air base. I didn’t realize how rare such a case was till I started asking when the base’s military court last heard a murder case. Ellsworth said it couldn’t find any in its court records going back to the year 2000.
When I moved to Rapid City on Halloween 2015, my main goal was to be reunited with my husband. We lived apart for half a year while I waited for my U.S. immigrant visa to come through. I had no idea what job I’d find in Rapid City. Little did I know I’d find an opportunity to continue writing stories and, in the process, get to know my new home country through its criminal justice system.