Former South Dakota ACLU boss accused of choking wife, bashing her against cabinet

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UPDATE: As part of a plea bargain, Minnehaha County, S.D. prosecutors dropped all domestic violence charges against Robert Doody on April 20, 2015. He has pleaded no contest to a much lesser charge of “attempted simple assault.” Doody’s sentence is unsupervised probation for 360 days. He also will complete a counseling program per an agreement with prosecutors.

Doody is now divorced from his then-wife, Kimberly St. John.

The former executive director of the South Dakota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union faces a charge of domestic assault because, police say, he strangled his wife — twice — during a prolonged verbal and physical squabble.

The incident occurred on Saturday, reports the Argus Leader, South Dakota’s biggest newspaper.

Robert Doody allegedly strangled his unidentified wife in the course of her argument. Then he let her go. Then he strangled her again.

A local prosecutor told a judge that the the recent ACLU head honcho also hurled his wife against cabinets in their home and jammed his fingers in her mouth to keep her from screaming.

“At one point, he wouldn’t let her out of the restroom,” the prosecutor added.

Mike Butler, a lawyer representing Doody, claimed that Doody’ wife was the assailant in the domestic quarrel. She bit Doody, Butler claimed. She was angry because Doody announced his intention to file for divorce.

In 2011, while was still at the ACLU, Doody pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge that started as a much more serious charge of child abuse against his stepdaughter, notes the Argus Leader.

The ACLU describes itself as a “national organization advocating individual rights, by litigating, legislating, and educating the public on a broad array of issues affecting individual freedom.”

Doody, 33, could serve up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted.

After a stern warning to Doody to abide by a no-contact order, the judge set bond at $1,000—much lower than the $50,000 the prosecution sought.

Doody was the ACLU’s top man in South Dakota for about five years. He took the job in 2008. When he left last spring, he cited health and personal reasons.

A cached version of a webpage entitled “Biography of Robert Doody, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Dakota” describes the accused wife beater as “long dedicated to the principles of civil liberties” and “well-connected throughout the South Dakota legal community, particularly with regard to Indian law.”

Doody’s prior work experience includes a stint at St. Francis Mission, a Jesuit ministry on a Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. He also worked for Dakota Plains Legal Services, litigating on behalf of tribal members, and he has been appointed as a special judge for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

As a law student at the University of North Dakota School of Law, Doody was an intern with the North Dakota Legislative Council. He earned his undergraduate and Master’s degrees from two different universities in Northern Ireland.

Doody currently practices law in Sioux Falls.

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Eric Owens