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SD Man charged in state, federal court with threatening to shoot Trump at Mount Rushmore

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

A Rapid City man has been charged in state and federal court after he allegedly illegally purchased guns and told a deputy that he planned to climb to the top of Mount Rushmore and shoot President Trump during the July 3 fireworks event.

Lucian Celestine, 29, was booked into the Pennington County Jail on June 30 after an investigation by the Secret Service and other federal, state and local officials, according to court records.

Celestine was charged in federal court with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm for allegedly buying a Browning bolt-action rifle, scope and ammunition despite being on a federal gun background check list.

Celestine — who a federal magistrate judge ordered detained without bond — pleaded not guilty to the firearms charge on Sept. 11, court records show. He was indicted Sept. 17 on a second charge of threatening the president and is scheduled to enter a plea on that charge on Sept. 30.

If convicted, Celestine faces up to 10 years in prison for the firearms charge and up to five on the threat charge.

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Celestine was also indicted at the Pennington County Court for making a terrorism threat. Celestine, who is scheduled for a Nov. 3 arraignment, faces up to five years in prison if convicted on the state charge.

Although the terrorist threat law has been on the books since 2005, no one in Pennington County was charged with it until June 2018. At least four others have been charged with the crime.

Like most of the other defendants in those cases, Celestine has a mental health illness, schizophrenia.

“The nature of the terroristic threat is not just the question of their intention to follow through, but their intention to place somebody in fear,” State’s Attorney Mark Vargo previously said when asked about concerns that law is charging people who need treatment or those who have no intention or ability to carry through with their threat.

Once someone is charged, it’s up to the court to decide if the person should be convicted or needs mental health treatment, Vargo said.

Court records

What follows is alleged in June 30 police reports attached to the state case and a July 2 affidavit attached to the federal case.

The police reports are by Jeremy Milstead, a deputy with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. The affidavit is signed by Chad Sayles, a detective with the Rapid City Police Department who also serves on a task force for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Secret Service began investigating Celestine after receiving a tip that he was trying to buy a weapon from the Armslist website.

Secret Service agents recognized Celestine’s name because he contacted the agency and the FBI in the fall of 2019 to report he had a strong urge to kill rapists and heard voices telling him that Trump was a rapist. Celestine said he didn’t have the desire or means to hurt anyone, and he was calling because he didn’t believe the voices and wanted to exonerate Trump.

The agents then contacted the Armslist seller, a Brookings police officer. The officer told the agents on June 29 that Celestine wanted him to ship a rifle, scope and ammunition to Rapid City by June 26.

The officer said Celestine never mentioned wanting to harm Trump but was acting strangely. He said Celestine also didn’t seem to understand firearms or how they were sold, so he reported him to the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.

The agents then contacted Milstead and went to Celestine’s home on June 30.

The trio first spoke with Celestine’s mother who said her son has schizophrenia and hears voices, but she wasn’t concerned about him harming himself or others.

The agents then spoke with Celestine, who acknowledged his past statements to the Secret Service and FBI, and said he had a gun in the trunk of his car. Celestine said he recently bought the gun for nearly $2,000 from a man in Box Elder and planned to use it for target practice. He said he didn’t have plans to harm Trump.

Celestine then signed forms allowing the agents to search his car and medical history. He also waived his Miranda Rights.

The rifle, seven boxes of ammunition, a scope and targets were found in the trunk. Agents also found a June 29 receipt for the ammunition and four targets from First Stop Guns, a store in downtown Rapid City.

Milstead told Celestine that his choice of weapon was an expensive and powerful one for target shooting.

Celestine also shared that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2018 and spent a month at the state mental health hospital in Yankton. He said he’s not in treatment and stopped taking his medication because it made him feel bad and didn’t work. He said he instead uses marijuana, which helps him relax.

Milstead eventually put Celestine on a mental health hold. Celestine became upset and later told Milstead that he did buy the gun because voices told him to shoot the president because he was a rapist. He said he had a relative who was raped so he wants to kill all rapists.

Celestine said his plan was to hike to the top of Mount Rushmore through the back side of the monument where there isn’t much security. He said he would hide out and then take the shot once Trump arrived.

Milstead then arrested Celestine for making a terrorist threat.

The federal charges came after agents found that Celestine was on a national gun background check list and had been involuntarily committed in October 2019 to Yankton after a mental health professional found he was a danger to others. Celestine was sent to the hospital after his call to the FBI but before the one to the Secret Service.

Celestine was on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) which said he can’t own a gun until 2022. People or stores with Federal Firearms Licensee are required to contact NICS before selling weapons.

Federal law makes it illegal for anyone who has been committed to a mental health facility to have firearms or ammunition that were involved in interstate commerce. Celestine’s rifle was produced outside of South Dakota.

Federal law also makes it illegal for sellers to provide firearms or ammunition to people they know have been committed to a mental health institution.

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© 2020 Rapid City Journal