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S.D. surgeon resigns from Mitchell hospital board of directors after controversial comments

MITCHELL, S.D. - A Mitchell, S.D., surgeon has resigned from the Avera Queen of Peace Board of Directors following controversial comments he made to the editor of The Daily Republic.

Jerome K. Howe submitted his resignation from the board, and the board accepted it, Avera Queen of Peace's Trish Delaney said Monday afternoon.

When asked whether the resignation was forced or voluntary, Delaney, vice president of marketing/fund development, said she did not know.

"It's been given to me officially that Dr. Howe has resigned from the board, and the board has accepted his resignation," Delaney said.

Howe was still listed Monday as an Avera surgeon on the health system's Web site. Delaney declined to say whether Howe is still employed in that capacity by the hospital.

"Those things are confidential, and we just can't comment on them," Delaney said. "... We protect the privacy and confidentiality of our employees and patients."

Delaney had previously issued this written statement about Howe's employment status: "We don't discuss the details of our employee disciplinary process, but we are taking this situation very seriously and our investigation is continuing."

Howe allegedly made threatening comments over the phone March 6 to Daily Republic Editor Korrie Wenzel. Howe, who was upset about an editorial Wenzel had written, allegedly said Wenzel was lucky The Daily Republic hadn't been "firebombed."

On March 9, Howe visited Wenzel's office and, after being told that a recorder was on, used a racial slur to describe physicians of Middle Eastern descent. According to Wenzel, Howe used the same racial slur during their earlier phone conversation.

Local police investigated Howe's allegedly threatening comments and forwarded the investigatory file to the Davison County State's Attorney's Office.

State's Attorney Pat Smith said Monday that he has turned the file over to Assistant State's Attorney Bob O'Keefe, in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Smith's wife works for Avera as the director of Avera Brady Health and Rehab.

O'Keefe, who will decide whether or not Howe's threatening comments warrant the filing of criminal charges, could not be reached Monday by The Daily Republic.

South Dakota Codified Law says that threatening or harassing contacts by telephone can be a misdemeanor crime if they are carried out "with intent to threaten to inflict physical harm or injury to any person or property."