Feds will re-examine 39 deaths at Pine Ridge

OMAHA WORLD-HERALD / May 25, 2012

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota will re-examine a list of nearly 40 deaths that Oglala Sioux tribal officials say were insufficiently prosecuted or investigated, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said Thursday.

Johnson’s statements came after Oglala Sioux Vice President Tom Poor Bear and Council Judiciary Committee Chairman James Toby Big Boy sent a list of 39 specific deaths on or near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“If there are cases we can prosecute, we certainly will,” Johnson said Thursday. “Even if the case is 30 years old, if we get the information necessary, we will prosecute.”

In response to a similar tribal request, the FBI issued a report in 2000 detailing its investigations into the deaths of 57 people during the 1970s, when the reservation’s murder rate was the highest in the nation and tensions peaked between the American Indian Movement and the FBI. AIM activists and supporters took over the village of Wounded Knee for 71 days to protest the treatment of American Indians.

The FBI in its 2000 report determined it was right to close the cases, even when deaths were deemed unnatural and no one was prosecuted.

The newly compiled list includes names and outcomes from the 2000 report that tribal leaders say are questionable.

The list also includes three names from the 1990s, including Poor Bear’s brother, Wilson Black Elk, and cousin Ron Hard Heart. Their bodies were found in 1999 on reservation land, across the border from Whiteclay, Neb.

“My lack of trust in the FBI, I would like to see a special team of investigators other than the FBI come down and investigate these deaths,” Poor Bear said last week.

FBI Special Agent Greg Boosalis said the agency is still looking into the deaths of Black Elk and Hard Heart.

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