After Three Long Years, Vern Traversie Gets His Day in Court

Heather Steinberger

The world might finally find out what really happened to Vern R. Traversie. Three years ago, the legally blind Lakota elder from South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation reported that he was verbally and physically abused while a patient at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

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In a ruling issued on Saturday, September 20, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey L. Viken stated that Traversie, 71, will have his day in court. Judge Viken largely rejected a motion for summary judgment filed in January by the defendants, which include Rapid City Regional Hospital Inc., Regional Health Inc., Regional Health Physicians Inc., and John and Jane Does Nos. 1-100.

By refusing to deny Traversie’s civil rights, battery and emotional distress claims, Judge Viken’s ruling cleared the way for trial in the U.S. District Court of South Dakota, Western Division.

“I’ve been praying for this, and I feel truly blessed that I will get my day in court,” Traversie said in a statement. “It’s been a long time, but my fight to make sure this never happens to anyone again is just starting.”

RELATED: Vern Traversie and His Two and a Half Year Wait for Answers

Traversie underwent double-bypass heart surgery at the hospital on August 26, 2011 and was discharged on September 8. While in the hospital, he said he suffered abuse at the hands of a nurse who, when he asked for additional medication, assaulted and battered him and yelled racial epithets at him.

He also said he believes the nurse, or other hospital staff, did something to his abdomen. On the advice of an anonymous hospital employee, when he returned home he asked his home health-care worker to look at his abdomen, where a series of deep, scattered wounds include marks resembling “K K K.”

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Traversie retained the services of a team of tribal attorneys, and on July 16, 2012, they filed a lawsuit on his behalf against Rapid City Regional Hospital in the United States District Court, District of South Dakota, Western Division. The complaint states that the “Plaintiff suffered severe physical and emotional trauma as a result of acts and omissions that took place while he was under the care and supervision of the Rapid City Regional Hospital.”

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley declined to prosecute on Traversie’s behalf, and since 2012, the case has remained under federal investigation.

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According to court records, the defendants in Traversie v. Regional Hospital moved for summary judgment on January 10 of this year, claiming a lack of evidence and stating that “no reasonable jury” could believe Traversie’s claims. A summary judgment is entered by the court for one party and against another party without a full trial.

Traversie’s legal team filed a response on January 31, stating that “[t]he jury is responsible for weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations, not the court.” The defendants filed their reply brief on February 13, in which they reiterated that Traversie “has failed to produce sufficient evidence to present a triable claim.”

Now the federal judge has had the final word, and the case will go to trial.

“I will continue to stand by what I have said,” Traversie said, “and it will be up to a judge and a jury, not the hospital, to decide.”

Traversie is represented by Galanda Broadman, a Pacific Northwest-based law firm that specializes in litigation, business matters and regulatory disputes that affect Indian country, and Chase Iron Eyes of Bismarck, North Dakota.

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