AP NEWS

Case against local woman charged in school, post office damage continues to be delayed

February 15, 2019

BELLE FOURCHE — The case against a Belle Fourche woman arrested in relation to vandalism that played out over the course of three days last August and culminated in her alleged arson of her home continues to be in limbo after her psychologist told the court Tuesday that she is still not mentally fit to enter a plea in her case.

Sally Norris, 59, was arrested Aug. 8, 2018, in connection with vandalism and disorderly conduct after she was accused of cutting open bags filled with woodchips that were used by construction crews working on the Career and Technical Education building being built directly south of her home on 13th Avenue in Belle Fourche.

After her arrest, Norris was charged with second-degree intentional damage to property, a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in county jail and a fine of up to $500, and disorderly conduct, also a Class 2 misdemeanor, for allegedly “screaming profanities” at the construction workers who were working on the building at the time.

Norris bonded out of jail later that day.

Then, later that night, 43 windows on the backside of the high school building, also south of Norris’ home, were broken. Video surveillance footage located at the high school assisted in the apparent identification of Norris related to the broken windows.

Additionally, investigators connected Norris with an Aug. 9 late-night vandalism, during which many vehicle tires were slashed at the Belle Fourche City Hall, Belle Fourche Post Office, and other locations around the downtown area.

At around 10:30 p.m. the next evening, Aug. 10, firefighters responded to a reported fire at Norris’ home.

After the fire was contained, in the early morning hours of Aug. 11, Norris was arrested in relation to the vandalism at the high school and other locations around Belle Fourche and charged with intentional damage to property valued between $5,000 and $100,000, a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment in the state penitentiary and a $20,000 fine, and intentional damage to property valued between $2,500 and $5,000, a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to five years imprisonment in the state penitentiary and a fine of up to $10,000.

Due to suspicious circumstances, the state fire marshal opened an investigation into the cause of the blaze.

Norris was scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 23; however, concerns about her mental fitness arose, and the case has stood at a virtual standstill ever since.

On Tuesday, Bill Moss, a Rapid-City-based psychologist, testified during a status hearing that in his opinion, Norris is mentally unfit to proceed with the legal proceedings. Moss said that he performed a competency evaluation on Norris several months ago and has since met with her twice to gauge her level of readiness to proceed with the legal process.

By gauging a patient’s cognitive ability to digest information and form reasonable conclusions based on the information posed to them, Moss said, he can evaluate their level of mental fitness.

Moss said that Norris has been diagnosed with and medicated to treat a bipolar disorder.

The doctor said Norris’ manic symptoms have “decreased significantly.” The medications used to treat Norris’ condition, Moss said, slows cognitive processes, affecting her ability to think.

“So we are encountering a lot of problems with confusion,” he said, adding that she is very confused about the legal system and the circumstances she finds herself in.

“She’s made a lot of improvement but she’s still greatly confused and a lot of the information she may have had prior to this manic episode (during which the crimes charged against her were committed) is not really accessible to her,” Moss said.

Because Norris’ mental fitness continues to be a concern for the court, 4th Circuit Court Judge Michelle Comer scheduled a March 25 status hearing in Norris’ case.

Norris still has not pleaded in the case.

On Tuesday, additional charges were filed against Norris, this time, related to the fire of her home. Norris was charged with second-degree arson. The indictment states that Norris started a fire or caused an explosion within her home with the intent to destroy the property to collect insurance money for the loss.

Norris is scheduled to be arraigned in the arson case during the March 25 hearing.

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