South Dakota Senate Censures Senator for Sexual Misconduct With Legislative Page

The South Dakota Senate on Wednesday censured Dan Sutton, a Democrat from Flandreau, who admitted sharing a bed with a former legislative page last winter.

The 32-2 vote came after three days of hearings before a special disciplinary committee last week — and right after a vote to expel him failed.

In separate testimony, Sutton and the former page, now 19, had told the panel they slept in the same bed in a Fort Pierre motel for two nights early last February.

Democratic Sen. Scott Heidepriem of Sioux Falls, vice chairman of the disciplinary committee, said most members of the committee favored censure over expulsion.

"We believe that is the appropriate punishment for what it is we learned at the hearing," Heidepriem said on the Senate floor.

The chairman, state Sen. David Knudson, R-Sioux Falls, said his conclusion is that Sutton shared a bed with the page and initiated unwarranted sexual contact — and should be expelled.

"This is a deeply personal decision for all of us," Knudson said.

His motion to expel Sutton failed 14-20 in the 35-member body. Sutton, who was in the chamber for earlier votes, left when the debate over his future started.

A censure amounts to a public reprimand that carries no loss of powers or privileges. Sutton still can vote, debate, serve on committees and introduce legislation.

Sutton, 36, was accused of sexually groping the young man last year while the two shared a room at the start of the youth's weeklong stint in the Legislature. The South Dakota attorney general and other law enforcement agents investigated the allegations and made no arrests. But the Senate committee accused Sutton of sexual misconduct.

Austin Wiese, now 19, testified that Sutton, a longtime personal and family friend, touched his genitals through his shorts as the two slept in a king-size bed.

Sutton denied fondling the young man but acknowledged that he might have shifted in the bed and inadvertently touched him.

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