SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – The U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota has finished reviewing a handful of unsolved death cases on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and determined that “some” of them should be closed, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says.
Oglala Sioux tribal officials asked federal authorities to reopen investigations into 60 deaths dating from the 1960s to the present. Johnson told The Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday that his office has completed reviews on four or five of the cases.
“Some of the cases we reviewed, our conclusion has been consistent with the original case filing, the original case closing,” Johnson said.
He would not give specifics on how many cases his office has determined should be closed or provide details about the cases that have been completed.
Many of the cases are from the 1970s, when the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s murder rate was the highest in the nation and tensions peaked between the American Indian Movement and the FBI. AIM was started in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government’s treatment of American Indians and demand that it honor its treaties with Indian tribes. The movement grabbed headlines in the early 1970s with its takeover of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington and its 71-day occupation of the Pine Ridge town of Wounded Knee.
The FBI typically investigates homicides on reservations, while the U.S. attorney prosecutes the cases. But the FBI refused to reinvestigate the cases in question without new information. A report released in 2000 detailed the agency’s decision to close 57 cases, but tribal members have called the report questionable.
Johnson has appointed three prosecutors from his office and an investigator to review the cases. He said his office will reach out to family members of the victims in the next few months to discuss where the cases stand.
He said reviewing just one case and following up on possible leads can take months. He said his office would release more information this spring, once additional cases have been reviewed.
“We’re really taking a close look at each file. We’re reaching out to potential witness, people who might know something when appropriate, and really taking them one by one. To give these cases a fair review, the challenge is that it takes a long time,” he said.
Johnson said he has reached out to the tribe and would welcome the involvement of Tatewin Means, the tribe’s attorney general. The tribe could not immediately locate a phone number for Means when asked by the AP on Wednesday.
Among the people hoping to get more information from the review is the tribe’s vice president, Tom Poor Bear. His brother, Wilson Black Elk, and cousin, Ron Hard Heart, were found in 1999 on reservation land. The deaths remain unsolved.
Poor Bear did not return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday. He previously told the AP that he would like a special team of investigators other than the FBI to come to the reservation to investigate the deaths.
Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Skin Cancer in Arizona: Stats, facts and new immunotherapy drugs making strides
- Caring Crisis: Rising tide In Alzheimer’s disease leads to shortage of caregivers
- Distracted walking injuries end up not so funny
- Scary situations: 5 quick tips before you let a contractor in your home
- Four ways telemedicine is changing the health care industry
- 5 mistakes homeowners make in the spring
- Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona's waterways
- Smart home basics: things you need to know to get started
- 5 Surprising things causing back pain
- Arizona agriculture is a $17.1B industry
- Timeline: Arizona's roots in brewing history
- 5 reasons to love the D-backs this season
- Tips for taking your home entertainment experience to the backyard
- Tech-related injuries your parents never experienced
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments
- Here’s why Gaydos went tankless with his water heater
- Bocce ball and basketball: How you can help Arizona's Special Olympics athletes
- Tips on building the best wine room in Arizona
- Avoid the nightmare: 6 tips to choose a great contractor
- Breast cancer: Improved testing and treatments means more survivors
- Failed back surgery: New hope for patients living in pain