MITCHELL, S.D. — Reed Bender, the man removed from a Mitchell Board of Education meeting for not wearing a face mask, surrendered himself to law enforcement Thursday afternoon, Oct. 29.
Bender, 39, along with his attorney, R. Shawn Tornow, walked into the Davison County Public Safety Center to be booked for a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer. He was released on a personal recognizance bond about 45 minutes after turning himself in.
“I didn’t go to this meeting expecting to do any of this stuff,” Bender told Forum News Service on Thursday afternoon. “I felt like (Superintendent Joe) Graves was trying to make a statement to me, which was shut up and put your mask on. I just decided to say no and stand up for whatever it is that I’m standing up for, which is way more than masks. It’s our personal freedoms, our God-given freedoms.”
A grand jury indicted Bender on Oct. 9 due to his actions from a Sept. 14 school board meeting in which Bender attended in opposition of a mask mandate. The Mitchell Board of Education set the mask rules during its July meeting.
Bender was not charged for refusing to wear a mask but for "using or threatening to use violence, force or physical interference or obstacle, intentionally obstruct, impair or hinder the enforcement of the criminal laws or the preservation of the peace by law enforcement officers," according to court documents.
Obstructing a law enforcement officer is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable upon conviction by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
When school board members and Graves told all attendees at the meeting they must wear a mask, Bender refused. Graves then called local authorities as the meeting continued, but when police showed up Bender told officers that, “You're going to have to drag me out.” At one point, an officer pulled out his stun gun but he did not deploy it. Multiple videos of the meeting went viral online.
Mitchell police did not arrest Bender the night he was removed from the meeting. Bender said Thursday, while referencing national incidents and riots, that officers “shouldn’t be in those positions.
“Mitchell, South Dakota, bringing the police force down on my head, they put those cops in danger just like they’re doing all over the United States, putting cops in danger, for stupid laws,” Bender said. “People in charge, the government overreach, telling people what to do and telling the cops what to do and how to enforce just dumb laws.”
Bender — who plans to continue attending Mitchell school board meetings until the mask mandate is removed — has two children, including a 14-year-old son who is a freshman at Mitchell High School. Bender said the day after he was removed from the school board meeting, his son said he “likes school.”
“I’ve never heard that before,” Bender said. “I think he was proud of his dad. That’s what I think and it makes me proud of myself that my son actually said he likes school.”
Bender and Tornow believe the initial appearance for the case will be in December with a likely jury trial in January or February.
Tornow called it a case of “government overreach” and that Bender was only “exercising his Constitutional rights.”
“We’re at a time and a place where our Constitutional rights have been flipped on their head. The world is essentially upside down,” Tornow, of Sioux Falls, said. “In Atlanta, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in Seattle, you can riot, you can loot, you can pillage, you can taunt cops and throw things at cops, you can try to burn down public buildings, and you’re not arrested.
"But here when you have someone exercising his rights, appearing before a governmental body, and they’re told we can’t proceed without having a mask on. In fact they did, they continued with the meeting until they bring in more government, and instead of discussing and talking it over with my client, they tried to forcefully remove him from this meeting.”