FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – A man has been charged with sexually assaulting a female inmate after the two were placed in the same jail cell alone on an Indian reservation in Arizona, federal court documents show.
Emmanuel Burnette was jailed Saturday at the White Mountain Apache Detention Center on tribal charges of assault and being under the influence of alcohol when the incident occurred. He now is charged federally with two counts of engaging in a sexual act with a woman against her will. He’s scheduled to appear in court Friday in Flagstaff.
The episode highlights what has become a cause of concern at tribal jails on Indian reservations.
Many tribal jails are decades old and face issues with overcrowding, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and are plagued by staffing shortages, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of the Interior Inspector General. It’s unclear what led correctional officers at the White Mountain Apache jail to have Burnette share a cell with a female.
Tribal officials did not immediately return messages left Thursday by The Associated Press. The FBI and the federal prosecutor declined to comment on the case.
Tribes have begun to take on the building and renovation of jails on their reservations but generally rely on the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to staff them. The White Mountain Apache Tribe operates the detention center in Whiteriver under a contract with the BIA. The tribe was awarded nearly $950,000 in stimulus funding in 2009 to renovate the adult and juvenile detention centers, but federal data shows the project still remains in the design stage.
The tribe’s jail is one of 14 in Indian Country that accounted for more than half of all inmates held in tribal jails at midyear 2011, according to another federal report.
New jails are scheduled to open this year in the Navajo Nation towns of Tuba City in northeastern Arizona and Crownpoint in northwestern New Mexico. Jails on the reservations currently can hold a combined 50 people, which means that hardly any inmates serve out full sentences.
Tribal jails generally can hold people only for misdemeanor crimes that carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail. Law enforcement on the Fort Apache reservation typically deals with domestic violence, sexual assaults induced by alcohol and drugs and a growing problem with violent crime among juveniles, authorities have said. Major crimes are referred to federal prosecutors.
According to an FBI agent’s affidavit, a video at the White Mountain Apache jail showed the 21-year-old Burnette lying down beside the 23-year-old woman and engaging in a sexual act before corrections officers entered the cell and separated them. The woman told authorities that Burnette said to her that “it’s OK, it’s OK to have you, they put me in here.”
The woman, who was being held on tribal charges of public intoxication, didn’t say anything to Burnette but later told authorities that she tried to push him away and that she was scared not only of him but the corrections officers, the affidavit states.
Burnette told an FBI agent that he was moved to the cell with the woman after he was banging his head on the door of another cell and kicked it several times. Burnette said he knew what he did with the woman was wrong, according to the affidavit.
Burnette has been appointed a federal public defender. She did not return calls for comment.
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