South Dakota Senate Panel Recommends Censure for Senator Accused of Groping Male Page

A state Senate panel voted Friday to recommend that the full chamber censure a senator accused of sexually groping a male legislative page last February.

The nine-member panel also could have decided to expel or exonerate Dan Sutton, D-Flandreau.

The vote was 6-3.

The full Senate could vote on the recommendation Wednesday.

Sutton was the subject of a special state Senate inquiry into an allegation that he fondled Austin Wiese, 19, now a college student. Sutton said Wiese made it up — possibly related to his father's political ambitions or a troubled business venture.

Censure is a public reprimand that carries no loss of the politician's powers or responsibilities.

Some on the committee said they thought Sutton should be expelled. But Sen. Nancy Turbak, D-Watertown, said the will of the voters in Sutton's district should not be overturned. Sutton was re-elected to his seat even after the allegations were known.

"We can suspect what happened, we can speculate what happened. But suspicion and speculation are not sufficient for undoing elections and casting an elected official out of his role," said Turbak, one of several lawyers on the committee.

Sutton shared a king-size bed in his Fort Pierre motel room with Wiese. He and the Wiese family had been friends for years.

Turbak said people's opinion of sharing a motel room with friends can vary. But given that Wiese was a legislative page at the time, "I'm willing to say that ought not to have occurred," she said.

State Sen. Ben Nessulhuf, D-Vermillion, said the fact that the two shared a bed has been undisputed for months. If that's the reason for kicking Sutton out of the Senate, why even go through the long hearing process, he asked.

State Sen. Bob Gray told the committee he could not support the motion to censure, instead favoring Sutton's expulsion.

Sen. Dave Knudson, R-Sioux Falls, who chaired the panel, said he thought Wiese's testimony was credible and that censure is not adequate.

While it is The Associated Press' policy not to identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault, Wiese's name was used in the Senate committee's public hearing, which was carried live on the Internet, and has been circulated by other media in the state.