Murder appeal, city incorporation dispute topics at SD Supreme Court arguments on Monday

VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — Monday marked the first day of oral hearings in the October term of the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court will hear cases through Wednesday at the University of South Dakota School of Law.

10 AM: State v. Haruff

Kristi Olson was found dead in June 2017.

The victim’s mother told KELOLAND News that 38-year old Olson was a mother of seven, and one of her daughters discovered her unresponsive. She said Olson was pronounced dead at the Gregory hospital.

The incident happened at a house located on Highway 18 in Dallas, South Dakota.


46-year-old Chance Harruff of Dallas was charged and arrested for second-degree murder in the death of Kristi Olson.

Medical professionals saw Olson had abrasions and discoloration around her neck. Harruff was immediately a suspect. According to the Supreme Court documents, he was Olson’s most recent boyfriend and they had a tumultuous relationship surrounded by verbal arguments and physical altercations.

Olson never told law enforcement about the domestic violence, but told family and friends.

Officers discovered a ping of Olson’s phone early on the morning of her death in Gregory, South Dakota. Surveillance video from a convenience store shows Harruff parked near a dumpster. Officers later found Olson’s phone in the dumpster.

Before the trial, the state wanted to enter evidence detailing abuse throughout the relationship. The court agreed past abusive conduct in a relationship is highly relevant in murder cases.

The jury convicted Harruff of second-degree murder and he is spending life in prison.

Harruff is appealing this decision to the Supreme Court.

What the court needs to decide

Harruff is asking the Supreme Court to figure out three issues:

  1. Whether the circuit court erred in denying Harruff’s motion for judgment of acquittal on second-degree murder.
  2. Whether sufficient evidence exists to sustain the second-degree murder conviction.
  3. Whether the circuit court erred by admitting the testimony of Marissa Bridges, Melvin Vosika and Kristin Wallace over Harruff’s objection that the testimony was cumulative in violation of SDCL 19-19-403.

The three individuals in the last issue raised are the witnesses to the abuse. The law referenced, SDCL 19-19-403, looks at what evidence can be excluded.

The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.

SDCL 19-19-403

The circuit court held the evidence was more probative than prejudicial and admitted them as admissible in a trial.

11 AM: State v. Buffalo Chip

This case will be heard on Monday morning at the USD Law School. State v. Buffalo Chip is all about Buffalo Chip City, a newly founded city just outside Sturgis.

This case is important because Sturgis is home to the annual motorcycle rally. Buffalo Chip is a popular campground during the rally.


  • 2015: Residents petitioned the Meade County Board of County Commissioners to incorporate the campground as a city. At the time the law stated:

“No municipality shall be incorporated which contains less than one hundred legal residents or less than thirty voters.”

SDCL 9-3-1 (in 2015)

  • 2015: The board held a hearing and decided the area had more than thirty registered voters and that more than a quarter of those voters signed a petition. They decided Buffalo Chip could incorporate.
  • May 7, 2015: An election was held for voters to decide to incorporate. The vote passed.
  • 2015: The city files articles of incorporation with the South Dakota Secretary of State.
  • 2015: Several Meade County residents and the City of Sturgis appealed the decision and went to court.
  • 2016: The circuit court void the incorporation of Buffalo Chip City. The court found the Meade County’s board procedural processes and deficiencies in the petitioner’s filings the reason.
  • 2017: Buffalo Chip City and the Meade County Board of County Commissioners appealed the ruling to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
  • Jan. 28, 2018: The South Dakota Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s ruling because the justices said the City of Sturgis and the Meade County residents weren’t able to challenge the decision, only the State of South Dakota could (since Buffalo Chip is already acting as a municipality).
  • May 29, 2018: The state filed a legal action to vacate the city’s incorporation.
  • 2018: Buffalo Chip City asks the court to dismiss the case because it argues the state doesn’t have the authority to dissolve a city.
  • 2018: The Circuit Court rules against Buffalo Chip City and decides the case can move forward.
  • 2018: The two sides debated the interpretation of the law (SDCL 9-3-1) and one key word in it – or.

“No municipality shall be incorporated which contains less than one hundred legal residents or less than thirty voters.”

SDCL 9-3-1 (in 2015)

  • The court decides that common sense and plain language would say the legislature really meant: “No municipality shall be incorporated which contains less than one hundred legal residents and less than thirty voters.”
  • The court dissolves Buffalo Chip City.
  • 2019: Now, Buffalo Chip is appealing that decision and not it’s back at the Supreme Court.

What the court needs to decide

Buffalo Chip is asking the Supreme Court to figure out two issues:

  1. Whether the circuit court erred by allowing the State to bring an action to vacate Buffalo Chip’s Articles of Incorporation and annul Buffalo Chip City’s existence.
  2. Whether the circuit court erred by finding that SDCL 9-3-1 required both one hundred legal residents and thirty voters in the area before the Meade County Commission could set an election.

It should be noted too, the South Dakota Legislature has updated the law to include AND instead of OR and increased the number of voters needed.

A municipality may not be incorporated unless it contains as least one hundred legal residents and at least forty-five registered voters

SDCL 9-3-1


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