On August 6, 2018, former Sheriff’s Deputy Dylan Hillestad filed a civil-rights case in the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota. The case is titled: Dylan Hillestad v. McCook County, a political subdivision of the State of South Dakota; and Mark Norris, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff , Case No. 18-CV-4093.
This is the second high-profile civil-rights case in South Dakota brought by Nichols Kaster, PLLP in as many years. In December 2017, the firm won a $1.2 million verdict in federal court on behalf of former DCI agent Laura Zylstra-Kaiser after she was forced to quit in retaliation for opposing sexual harassment in the workplace. The case was titled: Laura Zylstra Kaiser v. Bryan Gortmaker, in his Official Capacity as South Dakota Director of the Division of Criminal Investigation , Case No. 15-CV-1030. After trial, the parties settled for more than $1.5 million. More information about the case can be found here.
Like Zylstra-Kaiser, working in law enforcement was Plaintiff Dylan Hillestad’s dream. And from 2015 to 2017, Hillestad’s dream was becoming a reality in McCook County, South Dakota. But that dream came to an abrupt end in May 2017.
The Complaint alleges that Sheriff Mark Norris violated Hillestad’s right to free-speech under the First Amendment and the South Dakota Constitution. Specifically, the Complaint claims that Sheriff Norris forced Hillestad to resign from McCook County in retaliation for speaking out on multiple matters of public concern, including: the criminal-sentencing of his brother in a neighboring county; and potential professional, criminal, and constitutional misconduct by a fellow McCook County deputy. At the time of Hillestad’s forced-resignation, he was on paid administrative leave after being shot in the line of duty.
In addition to Hillestad’s free-speech claims, the Complaint alleges that McCook County violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when it failed to pay him and likely other deputies for their overtime work.
“We are proud to represent Dylan Hillestad and look forward to getting him the relief he deserves,” said Plaintiff’s attorney Matthew A. Frank of Nichols Kaster, PLLP. “In addition,” Frank explained, “Dylan’s case is important for what it stands for. It is a reminder that public employees do not give up their right to free-speech by working in government. And, like the Zylstra-Kaiser case, it is a reminder for all workers in South Dakota that (1) they have civil rights, and (2) there are lawyers who can help them vindicate those rights, be they from South Dakota or elsewhere.”
Plaintiff is represented by David Schlesinger, Matthew H. Morgan, Matthew A. Frank, and Lucas Kaster from Nichols Kaster, PLLP, which has offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota and San Francisco, California. Plaintiff’s local counsel in South Dakota is Stephanie Pochop from Johnson Pochop & Bartling in Gregory, South Dakota.