A Rapid City police officer was let go after racially profiling Native Americans.
Firings and police misconduct are usually kept secret in South Dakota. But this case became public after the officer appealed his firing to the Department of Labor and Regulation.
What follows is from public records filed in the appeal:
It’s 2020 and Officer Jeffrey Otto notices a vehicle with out-of-state plates making a prolonged stop at an intersection. That made him think there was reasonable suspicion to pull over the car.
But Otto was also suspicious for another reason.
He told dispatch that the driver was a “young Native American male driving a really new Mercedes.”
Otto later decided there wasn’t anything suspicious about the situation once he saw a
“middle-aged Asian guy” get out of the vehicle.
“So yeah, it’s going to be nothing,” he told dispatch.
Otto was suspended the next day after meeting with his supervisors. The police chief then fired him four days later for the racial profiling.
Otto appealed to the police chief and mayor, but they wouldn’t budge. He then filed a grievance with the state, alleging that his due process rights were violated since he didn’t have a pre-firing hearing. He recently dropped the case after Rapid City let him resign instead of being fired.
Mayor Steve Allender is also a former police chief.
“I know that some sub-standard cops move around the country and also move around the state and that’s why it’s important to do background checks and it’s important in this case to have a standards and training commission that will be required to look into this case,” he said.
Allender and the city attorney said they only agreed to the resignation after learning that Otto’s case will still be flagged for review if he applies for another law enforcement job in South Dakota.
Agencies contact the Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Training Commission when hiring new officers, said Allender, who is on the commission. The commission will see Otto’s resignation was not a normal one, but one made in lieu of a firing. Allender said that will trigger a hearing on the matter.
There’s no national database for officer misconduct and discipline so Otto could always apply to work as an officer in another state.
Most agencies do background checks and call former employers, Allender said.
“But to the question of would he be allowed to be in law enforcement if he went to the right agency at the right time? Yeah, because probably not 100% of agencies will do any kind of background. There might be some that just need the help and will take their chances.”