South Dakota lawmakers remember Gil Koetzle, who killed himself the day after law enforcement searched his home, as a hard-working legislator who had respect from both sides of the political spectrum.
They also are expressing shock at the suicide and the child pornography investigation of the veteran Democratic lawmaker.
“If you’d have asked me to name 1,000 people who had a problem with that, Gil would have been the 1000th,” said Bernie Hunhoff, a Yankton representative who served with Koetzle in Pierre.
Koetzle, 60, a retired firefighter who served 16 years in the Legislature, was found dead in his Sioux Falls home one day after a police raid that took computers and marijuana as part of a child pornography investigation.
Court documents say detectives with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force traced emails containing child pornography to an address belonging to Koetzle in the days leading up to the Wednesday morning search of his home.
Detectives served the search warrant after the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force traced a series of explicit images involving girls between 6 and 15 years old to Koetzle’s email account.
According to the search warrant paperwork, filed Friday afternoon in Minnehaha County, detectives seized computers, CDs, a cell phone, 13 grams of marijuana in six separate baggies and miscellaneous drug paraphernalia.
The day after the search was performed, dispatchers were called to the scene of a cardiac arrest at Koetzle’s home. Police spokesman Sam Clemens confirmed that the incident was a suicide.
Milstead said there is a follow-up investigation being done on the Koetzle case, but that no specific child victims have been identified.
“At no point in the investigation did we have any indication that there was any physical contact with children,” Milstead said.
Koetzle was a Democrat who served from 1993 through 2000 in the House and from 2001 through 2008 in the Senate.
Charlie Flowers, a former Democratic House member from Iroquois, said he heard about Koetzle’s death on Thursday night, but he had no idea that a search warrant had been served on the man’s home.
“I was shocked when I heard it,” Flowers said.
Flowers served on the corrections commission with Koetzle during the investigation into the death of Gina Score, who died from exhaustion after a forced run at a boot camp for troubled youth.
Koetzle stood up for Score, he said, as he stood up for working people.
“He was a hard-working legislator,” Flowers said.
Nancy Turbak-Berry, a Watertown Democrat and former state senator, also was shocked at the news of her former colleague’s death and the circumstances surrounding it.
“What I can tell you about Gil Koetzle as a senator is that he took his job very seriously and worked very hard to get things done,” Turbak-Berry said. “He was an absolutely tireless advocate for working people, and there aren’t many of those in the South Dakota Legislature.”
Former Republican Senator Gene Abdallah said he’d always respected Koetzle’s intellect and work ethic.
“I loved working with him in the legislature, I honestly did,” Abdallah said. “We were on different sides of the aisle, but we got along really well and worked together when we needed to.”
Abdallah praised Koetzle’s ability as an orator.
“He could give a speech on the floor of the Senate that would move everyone there,” Abdallah said.
One such moment came after a bill passed that appropriated $4 million for refurbishment of Mount Rushmore just before an education bill failed, Hunhoff said.
“Gil got up and gave one of the best four-word speeches I’ve ever heard,” Hunhoff told legislators Friday. “He said ‘Kids first; rocks second,’ and sat back down.”
Republican Lt. Governor Matt Michels also spoke about Koetzle on the Senate floor Friday.
“With Gil’s passing yesterday, I think we’re all stunned,” Michels said. “Gil was a great person, just a super human being.”
Hunhoff urged people to remember Koetzle for the good he’d done in his life.
“Let’s all go home and try to remember him for all the good he did. He shouldn’t be remembered only for his mistakes,” Hunhoff said. ..Source.. by John Hult