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Justice Department sues South Dakota casino that banned Native Americans

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The Justice Department on Wednesday filed a civil discrimination lawsuit against the owners and operators of a South Dakota hotel and casino that banned all Native Americans last spring in response to a fatal shooting at the property.

Federal prosecutors say the owners of the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino in Rapid City, SD, discriminated against potential customers when they released the new policy in late March and refused at least two Native Americans who attempted to book hotel rooms. over the next two days.

Hotel manager Connie Uhre said in a March 20 Facebook post that she took action after a guest was fatally shot by another guest in one of the rooms the night before.

The suspect, Quincy Bear Robe, has pleaded not guilty on second degree murder charges in connection with the shooting.

A hotel forbidden to Native Americans. The Sioux served a trespass order.

“Police policies that bar Native Americans from public places are grossly offensive, racially discriminatory and have no place in our society today,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Civil Rights Division. of Justice, during a conference call with journalists. “These defendants resorted to behaviors similar to the policies instituted during the Jim Crow era.”

A Grand Gateway Hotel manager declined to comment on Wednesday.

Prosecutors cited Uhre’s social media post in which the hotel “wouldn’t allow any more Native Americans [sic] on the property. Or at the Cheers Sports Bar. Natives killing natives. Steve Allender, Mayor of Rapid City posted a screenshot of his post on Twitter.

The federal complaint said that Uhre told other members of hotel management that they should “not want to allow natives on the property…The problem is that we don’t know the good guys of the bad natives.” …then we just have to tell them no!”

Uhre’s actions sparked a backlash in the state’s second-most populous city, where about 10 percent of residents are of Aboriginal origin. A nonprofit group that defends Native American rights has filed a federal class action lawsuit against the hotel and Uhre, alleging racial discrimination, and Sioux tribal leaders have served the hotel with a trespass order, claiming that the Grand Gateway is on Indigenous land, in violation of an 1868 treaty.

Some hotel employees criticized Uhre, while casino staff quit en masse.

The federal complaint names Uhre, his son Nicholas, and Retsel Corporation, the company that owns the property. Clarke said the Justice Department is asking the federal court to strike down the hotel and casino policy under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination based on race, colour, religion or national origin in a place of public accommodation.

Alison Ramsdell, U.S. attorney for the District of South Dakota, said Native Americans “are a vital part of the Rapid City community” and should feel welcome there.