For years, 6’9” 310 pound Richard Mette raped & tortured his adopted Lakota Indian daughters at the home he shared with his wife Wendy Mette in the town of Aberdeen, South Dakota.
After Richard Mette was arrested in 2010 authorities learned he assaulted KM nearly whenever they were alone from the time she was eight years old, sometimes forcing her to play a game he called “Beating or Blow Job.” The police found a huge collection of pornography including titles like “Family Lust” in Richard & Wendy’s bedroom. In the open, public area of the house they found a large set of “Sex Dice” with the pictures of of body parts on one die and words like kiss, suck or caress on the other.
Richard Mette would be charged with 23 counts of rape of child under ten years old and related charges. Wendy Mette would also be arrested and charged with 11 counts of abuse or cruelty to a minor.
The abuse could have been stopped earlier. The South Dakota Department of Social Services investigated the Mettes twice before the 2010 arrests; once in 2001 and another time in 2007, when Richard was sexually assaulting his daughter constantly. In both investigations, the police and DSS found evidence of inappropriate touching and physical abuse but left the children in the home and allowed the Mettes to continue in the foster parent program with a warning to stop spanking the children.
After the 2001 case, the Mettes were allowed the adopt the foster daughters that Richard would go on to assault.
In the 2007 case, State’s Attorney Kim Dorsett failed to file any charges, despite the fact that the Mette daughters told police that Wendy Mette had been told that Richard Mette was assaulting them.
After the 2010 arrest, the rape and abuse cases against the Mettes were spearheaded by a young Assistant State’s Attorney named Brandon Taliaferro and a children’s advocate named Shirley Schwab. Both Taliaferro and Schwab clashed with the DSS, who were trying to reunite with girls with Wendy.
But a few months into the case, a stunning turnaround happened.
After a June 1st, 2011 hearing where it was announced that a lawsuit against the DSS on behalf of the Mette Girls was in the works, Taliaferro was removed from the Mette case. In September 2011, under a direct order from South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, Brandon Taliaferro was fired from his position as an Assistant State’s Attorney.
Schwab contented to work on the case. On October 31st, 2011 she filed a court report that included evidence that State’s Attorney Dorsett had a lucrative side contract with the Department of Social Service that prohibited her or her private law firm from doing anything “in opposition to the interests of the state of South Dakota or any of its departments.”
That motion exposing the conflict of interest by Kim Dorsett happened to come just days after NPR ran a three part story by journalist Laura Sullivan called Lost Children, Shattered Families that put a national spotlight on South Dakota.
Nearly 700 Native American children in South Dakota are being removed from their homes every year, sometimes under questionable circumstances. An NPR News investigation has found that the state is largely failing to place them according to the law.
The combination of the NPR exposé and Schwab’s conflict of interest revelation created an immediate pushback from Dorsett, working in concert top law enforcement officials in South Dakota at the direction of Attorney General Marty Jackley.
- A secret plea deal was made to drop all charges against Wendy Mette, despite Dorsett being told on November 2nd that KM said that Wendy Mette knew about the abuse. (November 3rd)
- AG Marty Jackley gave the order that investigating Schwab and Taliaferro for witness tampering was the ‘top priority’ of Division of Criminal Investigation agent Mark Black. (November 3rd)
- Black removed the Mette girls from school and interrogated them in the basement of the DCI office. The girl’s lawyer was not present and permission to remove the girls was given by the DSS. (November 4th)
- Dorsett wrote an affidavit containing information she knew to be false and had DCI Agent Black sign and submit it in an ex partè hearing to remove Schwab from the Mette case. (November 5th)
- The home and office of Taliaferro and Schwab were raided and their computers seized. (November 7th)
- Despite a court order, Agent Black went to the home of an older sister who was taking care of the Mette girls. (December 7th)
South Dakota State’s attorney Micheal Moore officially dropped all charges against Wendy Mette and dropped 22 of the 23 charges against Richard Mette, who was given a 15 year sentence for years of taxpayer subsidized rape and torture of his adoptive daughters. The girls were ordered to be sent back to live with Wendy Mette, which ended any lawsuit against the State or the DSS.
Schwab and Taliaferro were arrested and charged with witness tampering and subornation of perjury. They faced forty years in prison.
When the trial eventually happened, the state’s case against Taliaferro & Schwab was so weak that the Judge took the almost unheard of step of stopping the trial halfway through after the prosecution rested. Two charges had been dismissed by the state, and the Judge threw out the rest.
That didn’t end the nightmare for Schwab and Taliaferro, however, who had lost their livelihoods and racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills. Taliaferro was unable to get the dismissed charges expunged from his record because South Dakota law requires consent of the prosecutor.