Public Trust, Integrity and Law Enforcement Officers

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Journalists often face the risk of retaliation when we sit down to write a story or opinion. Yet, the main goal of a journalist is to inform the public. And sometimes the information we share involves issues that people don’t want anyone else to know about. I’ve always been candid in this column. I’m sure I’ve offended people by sharing information with readers.

Journalists are often accused of not telling both sides of the story. Yet, both sides of the story told in an objective manner is generally meant for news articles. This is an opinion editorial. I choose to share my opinion with readers because there are issues which I feel very strongly about. I also try to give readers something to think about. I am guaranteed my right to freedom of speech under the Constitution of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

There have been times when people will blame something I’ve written for the things that happen to them. For instance, a few years ago I was apparently at fault when a tribal council incumbent was not re-elected. Right before the tribal election, I wrote something highlighting the costs of tribal council travel. I believed it was information that needed to be shared with the tribal voters. Yet, I was presumed guilty of not telling both sides of the story. Such is the life when you are a journalist. We can’t please everyone.

I was asked to write about an incident which happened a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t witness what happened but I agreed to write something about it. Once again, I am risking retaliation from local people. Please remember that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t write about issues that people need to know about.

The incident in question happened during Crow Dog’s sun dance. A young woman, who was supporting her immediate family, drove into town to get some supplies from home. As she drove into town, a police officer began following her. He followed her to her house. When she got out of the car, he asked her to come over to his patrol car. She was in a hurry because she was on a supply run. She had no idea of what was coming.

The police officer told her he had several warrants for her arrest. She asked him what she did but he said he didn’t know. All he knew was that she had several charges that would require her to pay $6,000 to bond out of jail. She was placed under arrest, handcuffed and transported to Rosebud Jail.

According to her account, the police officer denied knowing what she was being charged with. However, at some point she said he picked up some papers which were in his patrol unit the whole time and began reading off the alleged charges against her. The warrants had someone else’s name on them. She stated she wasn’t the person named on the warrants.

When she was booked into the jail, law enforcement officials realized they had made a mistake. She was definitely not the person named in the warrants. And even though she denied several times to the police officer that she wasn’t the person named on the warrants, he still arrested her. After being emotionally traumatized by the police officer who arrested her, she was released.

I believe police officers should positively confirm someone’s identity before making an arrest. This incident borders on harassment, especially since the family was praying at the sun dance. They all suffered unnecessary stress because of this incident. Their participation in the sun dance was rudely interrupted when they thought they had to leave the ceremony to find $6,000 in cash to bond their family member out of jail. There are few people living on the Rosebud Reservation who can actually afford to pay a $6,000 bond.

Those of you who pray or sing in Lakota ceremony know how important it is to stay focused. Several members of this woman’s immediate family were participants in the sun dance. They were either dancing or singing. This incident caused them unnecessary emotional trauma.

Maybe the police should consider leaving tribal people alone while they are in ceremony. I remember a while back when police officers would go to wakes or funerals to arrest grieving relatives. I believe the tribe did stop police officers from making arrests during those times. Perhaps a similar directive should be given to law enforcement, that is, maybe they could leave people alone while they are praying or supporting relatives at sun dance. Do the police go into local churches on a Sunday to execute warrants?

Another incident recently happened on the Pine Ridge Reservation where an on duty law enforcement officer crashed into a car. As a result of that crash, a woman lost her life and two other female passengers were seriously injured. Apparently, no charges are going to be filed, even though the crash took a life and forever changed other lives. I encourage the family to file a wrongful death suit against both the officer and the department.

Still another incident involves a local police officer who long refused to allow the mother of his children custody. The mother alleges her children were abused by this police officer and his wife. A lot of couples use their children against one another when they break up. And sometimes we see Tribal Court side with police officers, especially when he paints a bad picture of the mother. In the end, it’s the children who suffer the most.

I agreed to write this column because the people who were wronged come from families I have great respect for. Oftentimes, tribal members cannot get any justice when they are wronged. Sometimes the only way people will know what happened is if they read about it in the newspaper or on a social media site.

Our law enforcement officers must have integrity. When they lose public trust, it’s doubtful they will ever regain it.

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