Friday, February 15, 2013

Law and order news out of Indian country

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in mid January that the lawsuits of two Indian families against F.B.I. agents who allegedly failed to properly investigate the murders of loved ones can proceed.  Both families/plaintiffs are from the Crow Indian reservation in Montana, and that is where the crimes occurred. The New York Times reports:
The court declined last month to reverse a 2010 federal court ruling that said the F.B.I. agent, Matthew Oravec, did not have qualified immunity from legal action, a protection usually given to government employees when acting in an official capacity — and a status sought by the Justice Department, which had appealed the ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The suits against Oravec are based on the Fifth Amendment, with plaintiffs asserting equal protection and due process violations.  

Oravec was involved in investigating the deaths of Steven Bearcane in 2005 and that of Robert Springfield in 2004, both on the Crow reservation. Journalist Timothy Williams explains:  
Federal prosecutors did not file charges in either case, and the men’s families sued, accusing Mr. Oravec of conducting a second-rate investigation, which they said was part of a wider problem of discrimination against Indian crime victims on the reservation. 
The lawsuit also asserted that Mr. Oravec had sought to intimidate family members, made derogatory remarks about Indians and had refused to carry out basic investigative tasks, including interviewing potential witnesses or taking crime scene photographs.
Williams's story quotes Patricia S. Bangert, the lawyer who represents the Bearcane family:  
The decision puts federal and state law enforcement agents on notice that they may be held personally liable if they discriminate against Indians in investigating crimes against them.
According to Bangert, her clients had offered to dismiss the lawsuit if the "federal government agreed to allow a third party to investigate independently, but that the government had declined."

Earlier posts related to the Bearcane case and general failings of federal law enforcement in Indian country are here and here

In more recent news, a townhall meeting is set to discuss the failings of the child protection system at the Spirit Lake Indian reservation in North Dakota.  Timothy Williams reports for the New York Times here.
Residents have complained that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and federal prosecutors have done too little to stop child abuse, which officials acknowledge is commonplace on Spirit Lake and has reached epidemic levels, whistle-blowers say. North Dakota’s senators and a representative are expected to attend the meeting. 
The federal government took over the tribe’s social services in October, and in one month federal officials said they had investigated more than 100 cases of reported child abuse. More recent figures are not available, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Earlier posts about the failed child protection system at Spirit Lake are here and here

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