My name is Mark Black. I was a South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation Senior Special Agent until I was terminated in March 2014. My entire adult life has been in service to my country. I am a veteran who served 8 years in the U.S. Navy. Service to our country is important to my family. My father was a decorated Korean War veteran and five of the seven children in my family are also veterans of the U.S. Military.
Upon my honorable discharge from the Navy in 1996, I put myself through a 6 month law enforcement academy in California in a desire to continue to serve my country and my community. I chose a career in law enforcement because I desired the opportunity to make a difference and protect those who could not protect themselves.
I began my law enforcement career in Rapid City, SD in 1997. I worked as a corrections officer, patrol deputy and eventually as a narcotics investigator for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. While serving on the DCI Drug Task Force, I was recruited by and began working for the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation in August 2005.
As a DCI Agent, I was assigned to the Aberdeen Field Office in northeast South Dakota. In 2009, I was the first Agent to receive DCI’s highest award for bravery in the apprehension of three bank robbers. In May of 2009, I was the first SD DCI Agent to attend the National Forensics Academy at the world famous body farm in Knoxville, TN. While studying crime scene investigation at the body farm, I became the most qualified crime scene investigator in the SD DCI, attaining IAI Level II status. I was consistently relied upon to conduct felony investigations, most specifically with respect to crime scene investigation on major incidents in eastern South Dakota. Attorney General Jackley had himself specifically directed my agency to send me to do crime scene investigations on high profile cases in eastern South Dakota.
I took great pride in being relied upon for my experience and training. My dedication to my agency and my job was continually recognized in my evaluations which were consistently at or above average. My loyalty and dedication to my brothers and sisters in law enforcement is unwaivering. The field agents that serve the South Dakota DCI are without a doubt highly dedicated, professional and well trained. That being said after the last two years my faith in the criminal justice system in South Dakota has been highly questioned.
On November 3rd 2011, I was contacted by then Brown County State’s Attorney, Kim Dorsett, and asked to investigate an allegation of witness tampering against court appointed child advocate Shirley Schwab. The initial allegation was that Schwab threatened the Mette children’s foster mother, Jennifer Treichel, with seeing that her foster care license would be revoked, if Treichel reported incidents of violence in her home from the Mette children. On the same day, I was contacted by DCI Director Bryan Gortmaker and SD Attorney General Marty Jackley. Director Gortmaker told me to “sweep out the corners and get to the bottom of what was happening.” AG Jackley advised me that this was a “priority case” and to give whatever assistance SA Dorsett requested.
I spoke with Jennifer Treichel and was advised that Schwab had allegedly berated the Mette children into stating that their adopted mother, Wendy Mette, knew that they were suffering sexual abuse at the hands of their adoptive father, Richard Mette. Further, it was relayed to me that Schwab demanded that the children tell Schwab that their mother, Wendy knew of the abuse. This led me to believe that Schwab had possibly attempted to subrogate perjury.
The next step in my investigation was to interview the Mette children. These interviews were recorded. Search warrants were served for the homes and offices of Shirley Schwab and former Deputy Brown County State’s Attorney, Brandon Talifiero. This in turn led to a search warrant for the office of Psychologist Francine Sipple.
After reviewing the evidence seized during the search warrants, I believed that Schwab, Talifiero, Sipple and the Mette children’s attorney, Kari Bartling, may have been involved in an attempt to subrogate perjury and tamper with witnesses. Additionally, I was provided documentation from Dorsett with reference from the Richard Mette case to support the case I was tasked with investigating.
Dorsett came into my office on Saturday, November 5, 2011 to prepare an affidavit to remove Shirley Schwab as court appointed child advocate in the Mette case. Prior to preparing the affidavit, Dorsett watched the recorded interviews with the Mette children in my office. The affidavit that SA Dorsett prepared and I signed was submitted to Judge Scott Myren. While I read the document quickly before submitting it to the Court, I did not catch the fact that Dorsett wrote in the affidavit that all the Mette children admitted to lying or embellishing allegations, which the recorded interviews did not support. I was aggressively cross examined with respect to this inaccuracy by Schwab and Talifiero’s defense counsel. As the transcript of the hearing and/or trial will confirm, I fully admitted this was inaccurate and took responsibility for signing the affidavit and not reading it more closely.
Schwab and Talifiero were eventually indicted by a Brown County Grand Jury and while the grand jury handed down an indictment for Sipple, those charges were dismissed by Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore, who was brought in at the request of Dorsett and Jackley to handle the Schwab/Talifiero case. Dorsett and Jackley brought in an outside prosecutor because Dorsett claimed a conflict of interest due to the fact that Talifiero was a former employee of the Brown County State’s Attorney’s Office. The Attorney General refused to handle this case claiming a conflict of interest with respect to a pending lawsuit against the State and South Dakota Department of Social Services filed by the Mette children’s guardian ad litem. It’s important to note that Dorsett advised me at the point in the Richard Mette prosecution where Brandon Talifiero took issue with DSS’s failure to protect the Mette children, she received a phone call from AG Jackley, advising her to get rid of Talifiero or the AG’s Office would set up shop in Aberdeen. Talifiero was removed as the prosecutor on the Richard Mette case and Dorsett inserted herself in spite of a glaring conflict of interest due to her contract to represent DSS.
The Schwab/Taliferio trial was scheduled for January 2013. During the fall 2012, on more than one occasion Dorsett told me that if I was asked on the witness stand if we were friends outside of work, that I was to lie and say we weren’t. Kim Dorsett’s request to deny a friendship proves to me that she knew beforehand that the Attorney General and/or the Division of Criminal Investigation intended on terminating me for failing to achieve a successful prosecution. Additionally, this would provide Dorsett with deniability in being associated with me after I was discredited.
In December 2012, while attending additional training at the National Forensic Academy in Tennessee, I received a phone call from DCI Director Gortmaker and was questioned about the Attorney General contacting me and advising me that this was a priority case. Director Gortmaker was clearly upset with me about making that statement and testifying to that fact at the suppression hearing held in the fall of 2012. I did not understand the Director’s obvious frustration. It was my belief at that time that the Defendants Schwab and Talifiero, had betrayed the criminal justice team by their alleged conspiracy in the case at hand.
During the trial in January 2013, all witnesses including myself were sequestered. I was only in the courtroom for my testimony. As is well documented in the court transcript, I was aggressively cross examined as to inaccuracies in the evidence in my investigation. Presiding Judge Gene Paul Kean dismissed the charges against Schwab and Talifiero at the conclusion of the state’s case.
Also in January of 2013, I separated from my wife of 22 years, Patricia Lamb Black, with the intention of filing for divorce.
Almost immediately following the trial, my regional supervisor, SSA Jason Even contacted me and advised me that AD Dan Satterlee had been sent out by the Attorney General in an attempt to interview Judge Kean to further explain why the case was dismissed. I was advised Judge Kean refused to speak with AD Satterlee. In late January 2013, SSA Even advised me that the Attorney General had been contacted by Victor Fishbach, Spink County State’s Attorney and attorney for former DCI Agent Laura Zylstra Kaiser. According to Fischbach, Fishbach and Jackley were college roommates and Fishbach is one of Jackley closest friends. Fischbach told Jackley several allegations about me that were totally false in an effort to get Jackley to fire me. SSA Even went on to say that AG Jackley and Director Gortmaker wanted me gone.
In March 2013, I contacted SSA Even and advised him that I intended to forward a complaint to the SD Bar Association Disciplinary Board against Victor Fischbach for his attempt to cost me my job in January.
In April 2013 and May 2013 I was told by SSA Even and AD Satterlee that I was not to forward my complaint against Victor Fischbach to the SD Bar Association Disciplinary Board and stated that doing so would give the Attorney General the ammo he need to fire me.
To say my divorce from my first wife was contentious is an understatement. I was investigated in May 2013, by SSA Even and AD Satterlee for vandalizing my own property. In June 2013 I was placed on a work improvement program for the communication issues from my divorce. In October 2013, I was suspended for a FB post in support of law enforcement. In each of these instances I was told the Attorney General was contacted and it was eluded to that the person reporting me was Victor Fishbach. Though, I was never told officially even when I requested that information as part of the employee grievance and appeal process.
In January 2014, I reached a point where I had enough of my ex-wife’s antics. I contacted Aberdeen Police Department and asked them to investigate my ex-wife for identity theft for accessing after the divorce, a credit account assigned to me in the property settlement of my divorce. APD attempted to interview my ex-wife during their investigation. The next day, she applied for and received a temporary protection order against me, alleging domestic violence in our marriage. This order was signed by Circuit Court Judge Scott Myren and a hearing on the TPO was set for March ____, 2014.
I immediately advised my agency as to the TPO and was placed on paid leave and asked to provide my agency a copy of the Affidavit and TPO which I did without hesitation. Within ….. I was ordered to Pierre and to turn in my equipment, credentials and state vehicle. While in Pierre, I was notified that I was being terminated by the SD DCI for alleged acts of domestic violence, conduct unbecoming an agent and violating a state policy of embarrassment to the State of South Dakota. I was given 5 working hours to obtain counsel and submit my initial appeal.
In my initial appeal, I pointed out that the agency itself had not conducted any investigation whatsoever to corroborate or refute the allegations made by my ex-wife. The agency then reached out to North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and asked them to look into the allegations. While I met with the ND Investigator for a lengthy interview and answered all of his questions, my ex-wife refused to be interviewed. The ND BCI determined that the allegations by my ex-wife did not warrant criminal charges. Despite, ND BCI’s findings, the SD DCI fired me two days prior to the final protection order hearing where I was exonerated and the court found no acts of domestic violence had occurred.
As a result of the loss of my employment and the local media attention online and in print, surrounding the TPO and the belief that my ex-wife would not stop her continued harassment, my wife Lynda and I decided to move out of state, while I appealed my termination.
While it was obvious to me that my ex-wife’s actions and unsubstantiated allegations were being used by my agency and Attorney General’s Office to discredit me, I did not realize the extent of the political implications in the failure to convict Schwab and Talifiero.
In January 2015, I was contacted by Lee Stranahan and Lee requested to speak to me off the record about the Schwab/Talifiero trial and the events surrounding my termination. While I agreed to speak with Lee, I emphasized to him I still felt the case I investigated was justified. Lee asked me to be patient and to hear him out, as he believed there was information that I wasn’t privy to with respect to the motivation for the prosecution, documents and evidence withheld from me and the true reason for my termination. After many hours of discussion with Lee, I now realize that Dorsett’s embellishment of the affidavit for removal of Schwab, withholding of the Wendy Mette plea agreement, the misinformation about the unsigned document and her request that I lie with respect to a friendship, is not mere happenstance or carefully crafted incompetence but rather an obvious attempt to see that Schwab and Talifiero were prosecuted unjustly to protect her $75,000/yr contract to represent SD DSS. Furthermore, returning the Mette children to the custody of Wendy Mette would subvert the lawsuit against the State of South Dakota and DSS.
Another goal in prosecuting and/or discrediting Schwab and Talifiero would be to deflect attention away from concerns Schwab and Talifiero raised about the ICWA funds. While I was questioned about the ICWA funds during cross examination at the trial, until my conversations with Lee, I did not understand the relevance of that or Dorsett’s contract with the SD DSS to my investigation.
Lee informed me that Jackley’s two biggest political contributors financially benefit directly from ICWA funds in excess of millions of dollars. Schwab and Talifiero’s attempt to raise issues surrounding the ICWA funds potentially jeopardized the money these contributors received. I think we can all put 2 and 2 together that if Jackley’s corporate political contributors are benefiting financially that benefits Jackley and his future political ambitions.
Another issue, Lee and I discussed was the fact that Mike Moore had met with psychologist Francine Sippel and her attorney in his office without me, as the case agent, being present. This meeting occurred after the indictment was handed down against Sipple and resulted in the charges against her being dismissed. This seemed odd to me, as any investigator/detective will tell you, it is unheard of for a prosecutor to meet with a primary suspect without having their lead investigator at their side. In talking through this situation with Lee, he told me that Sipple’s attorney requested I not be present. After Moore met with Sipple and her attorney, it took me two weeks to get Moore on the phone for an explanation as to why the charges against Sipple were dismissed. The only explanation Moore offered was that we could not prove Sipple lied. While I disagreed with Moore’s assessment due to the fact that we had an indictment from the grand jury, I knew better than to further challenge my prosecutor on this point. In further discussions with Lee Stranahan, it is obvious to me that Sipple and her attorney were able to explain to Mike Moore the chain of communication between Talifiero, Schwab and Sipple, in a sensible way that did not support the case we had at that time. While the documents obtained during my investigation seemed damming in black and white, Lee explained to me that because documents/information was withheld from me, I did not have the full picture of the chronology of communications between Schwab, Talifiero and Sipple. If all the documents and information would have been provided to me, my investigation would have concluded that no prosecution was warranted.
It seems clear to me now that my supervisors and the prosecutors knew the evidence didn’t support the allegations and had a duty to halt this investigation but consciously failed to do so.
For Jackley to say that he was not involved in the decision making process with respect to my investigation is ludicrous. I was instructed to keep Assistant Attorney General Bill Golden informed as to the progress of my investigation. In fact, I received instruction from Golden to include specific emails between Schwab and Judge Scott Myren with my report that led to Judge Myren being asked to recuse himself from the Schwab/Talifiero case.
While the ramifications to everyone involved in this case were and are unjust, I remind you that the real victims are the Mette Children which again have been failed by the system set up to protect them. The most shameful consequence being that they were returned to an adopted mother who did not protect them and this was as a result of the actions of Kimberly Dorset and Marty Jackley whose true motivation was financial gain for Dorsett personally and the financial gain of Jackley’s largest political contributors.
Since January 2013, all I wanted was to end a highly dysfunctional marriage and be a better father to my children, while maintaining my career as a DCI Agent. I took great pride in being a SD DCI Agent and was honored to serve my agency and the people of South Dakota. The emotional toll on my family and me has been enormous. While I have not only lost my career, I lost my children, my wife has been defamed and humiliated publicly and in court, we were forced to move out of state, forced to pay child support at a level 3x above my current salary, ordered to pay my ex-wife’s attorney’s fees. I have lost my pension to pay for relocation and my attorney’s fees. Additionally, members of my wife’s family have turned their backs on us in believing what my ex-wife, her attorney’s and the state alleged about me, but obviously none of this was substantiated with any evidence.
While my closet door is wide open, I think it’s only fair to look into the closets of everyone that’s been mentioned here today and let the skeletons fall where they may.
It is my opinion that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the South Dakota Bar Association should open up an investigation into the actions of Kimberly Dorsett and Attorney General Marty Jackley with respect to obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, violation of civil rights, abuse of power and public corruption with respect to the Schwab/Talifiero case. Furthermore, I feel the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the SD Bar Association needs to investigate Victor Fishbach, Marshall Lovrien, Larry Lovrien (current Brown County State’s Attorney) and Jamie Hare for obstruction of justice, violation of civil rights and violation of attorney/client privilege. These investigations should be run from outside the State of South Dakota.
The administration of the SD Division of Criminal Investigation needs to be held accountable and to the high standards with which they demand from all of their agents. I will remind them that there is more to integrity than telling the truth. It also encompasses standing up and preventing a wrong from occurring.
I fully expect another round of attacks to begin shortly after this press conference is over. I am well aware that I will be called many things, including a disgruntled former employee. There’s truth in that I am disgruntled because I was dismissed from my agency based on allegations that I was exonerated from criminally and civilly. My agency continues to change the reason for my dismissal. As recent as September 2014, during an appeal hearing before the Civil Service Commission, my entire chain of command testified they had no issues with my quality of work and that my work product was second to none but still felt my termination was the right course of action. Does it make sense to you that after being exonerated and having no issues with my work that I still deserved to have my career taken from me in the manner that it was?
I will not pretend to have any solutions to correct the plight of Native American children in the South Dakota Justice system, I will say, it is obvious that changes need to be made now and that the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act needs to be readdressed by the U.S. Congress.
While I am no longer a South Dakota resident I would convey to the people of the state of South Dakota it is time to wake up and do away with the business as usual by South Dakota’s elected politicians and it’s past time to end the cronyism and do away with the “Good Ol Boys Club.”
I would like to say that Lee Stranahan has done an exemplary job putting together all the facts in this story. Lee is without a doubt one of the best investigators I have met. I have been at a loss over the last two years as to why I have continually stayed in the barrel. I resigned myself to believe that this is where God wanted me. I had concluded that life isn’t fair and nobody gave a damn what my family and I have endured. I am not a perfect person. I have never pretended to be perfect and anyone that knows me will tell you what you see is what you get. I will give you my opinion if asked, though you might not like it. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I am highly self critical. I have to live with the fact that I was unable to see the forest for the trees in this case and that I too failed the Mette children. What is of paramount importance is not the fact that I have to live with it but that the Mette children do.