Nov. 3—EDITOR'S NOTE — In cases of alleged sexual crimes, Forum News Service works to protect the identity and privacy of any alleged victims and/or witnesses in our reporting. Due to this policy, some identifying details have been intentionally left out of this story.
WHITE RIVER, S.D. — A South Dakota Senate candidate is facing felony child abuse charges in Mellette County after court documents indicate a family member said she was repeatedly groped and molested for years.
Joel Koskan, 44, of Wood, was charged Thursday, Nov. 3, with one count of exposing a minor to a foreseeable harm, a Class 4 felony, after Assistant Attorney General Mandy Miiller reviewed a months-long investigation by the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.
According to a five-page probable cause document:
The investigation was spurred May 6, 2022, when a retired DCI agent contacted county and state investigators seeking assistance in a sexual assault investigation involving a 19-year-old woman who is related to Koskan. According to the retired agent, the woman disclosed that Koskan had been "raping her since she was a young child."
The retired agent informed investigators that the woman said Koskan was monitoring her via GPS tracking systems in the woman's phone and vehicle. He also owned the property she lived at, and could monitor it via a camera system.
After instructing the woman to go to the nearest sheriff's office, authorities assisted her in finding a safe, private place to stay while the investigation began.
On May 11 — five days after investigators became aware of the allegations — the woman met with DCI agents in Watertown, where she explained the family dynamic.
"She explained that ever since she was young, Joel [Koskan] would give her very long hugs, kiss her and have her sit on his lap," a DCI agent wrote in a probable cause statement filed with the courts. "[The woman] thought that it was 'normal things' that families were supposed to do."
It wasn't until she attended a faith-based summer camp at 14 years old that she became aware that the behavior was unusual. During the retreat, counselors spoke with the children about their idols and when physical contact can become inappropriate or sexual. That's when "it clicked," she told investigators.
After informing camp counselors that she believed Koskan "had a sexual interest" in her and that he "wanted to be with her intimately," camp staff contacted the Department of Social Services, who dispatched a social worker to investigate the situation. However, she elected not to cooperate with the social worker, and no case was ever made.
Following the visit from the social worker, the woman told investigators that Koskan began limiting how often he touched her — but that only lasted for a couple of years.
As the woman grew older, she claims Koskan would "require" her to take showers and switch from wearing shorts to a nightgown without underwear. Court documents say Koskan would require her to straddle him after showering, exposing herself to him.
It wasn't until she was 17 years old — roughly three years after the visit from DSS — that the woman claims Koskan penetrated her with fingers for the first time at his home in Wood, South Dakota. The woman said that touching led to sexual intercourse, which took place "many times" in different residences across the state.
On more than one occasion, the woman said Koskan would drive roughly 4 hours from Mellette County to Watertown after the two would fight on the phone. She said he would climb into bed with her and begin touching her, which would result in further intercourse. DCI agents said in court documents that contraception was rarely used.
Though the woman told investigators that she couldn't recall the exact number of times the two had engaged sexually, it wasn't until she started making friends her age in Watertown that she realized "how inappropriate the relationship with Joel [Koskan] really was."
Beyond the sexual nature, the woman said Koskan controls her social media accounts in an effort to limit her connections with others. In addition to monitoring her whereabouts via GPS and camera systems, Koskan required nightly phone calls.
After sparking a relationship with her now-boyfriend, the woman claims Koskan's wife told her that sexual activity was meant to be a "special event." That comment led her to report Koskan's behavior to the police.
Roughly one month after the investigation began, on June 2, 2022, authorities reviewed the woman's phone, and found multiple conversations with Koskan that appeared to confirm the woman's story, according to court documents.
Court documents indicate that a DCI agent and a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force found multiple text messages between Koskan and the woman that referenced GPS tracking.
A separate message thread from May 6, 2022 — the day the woman first appeared in a sheriff's office — indicated Koskan knew she was speaking with authorities.
"You promised you'd never do this," Koskan texted. "I'm begging you, you don't want to do this."
With a sworn statement seemingly indicating a pattern of harm to the victim, DCI agents submitted the outcome of their investigation to the Attorney General's Office.
On Thursday, a summons was issued for Koskan. Court records indicate he has since been taken into custody. An initial hearing was set in a Mellette County courtroom for Nov. 7. If convicted of the charge, he could face up to 10 years in prison and pay fines of up to $20,000.
In February, Koskan, a farmer in southeastern Mellette County, filed to run as a Republican candidate for the South Dakota Senate in District 26.
Dakota Scout first broke the news of pending criminal charges
against Koskan on Wednesday, his
campaign website still exists, but has been set to private
, and is inaccessible to members of the public. His Twitter account has since been deactivated.
Koskan has yet to formally withdraw his candidacy for the state Senate, according to public records from the South Dakota secretary of state. The only other candidate running against Koskan is Shawn Bordeaux, a current Democratic state representative from Mission.
On Thursday, the South Dakota Democratic Party issued a statement calling on Koskan to immediately end his campaign.
"These allegations concerning Joel Koskan are deeply disturbing, and he should immediately end his campaign," said party chairman Randy Seiler. "While he will still appear on the ballot, the choice for the voters of District 26 couldn't be clearer. Partisan politics aside, Joel Koskan should not be voting in the legislature on issues that affect South Dakota kids — or any issues at all."
In a Thursday email to Forum News Service, South Dakota GOP Chairman Dan Lederman focused on the severity of the allegations, adding that the party is against all forms of child abuse.
"The allegation against Joel Koskan is very serious, and the South Dakota Republican Party unequivocally opposes child abuse in all forms," Lederman said. "The South Dakota Republican Party trusts the justice system to work through the allegation."
Under South Dakota law, state legislators must be an eligible voter. However, a felony conviction requires an individual be removed from the voter registration records.