DAKOTA "JUSTICE" [Hunter Gray 3/3/02]
Note by Hunterbear:
South Dakota -- traditionally dominated by meat packing outfits in the east
and Homestake Mining in the Black Hills [though that dimension has played
out] -- continues to display one of its traditionally consistent negative
dimensions: rank, virulent and pervasive anti-Indian prejudice and
discrimination. Never forget and always remember the Wounded Knee Massacre of hundreds of unarmed Natives in 1890, and the Wounded Knee Native protests of 1973 -- and several thousand other events that attest to the ills and sins of South Dakota. And to the courage and perseverance of the Natives -- and some others of good will and decency.
Governor Bill Janklow -- who has Forever been around in one political
incarnation or another -- has sometimes been tagged the Ross Barnett [old
1960-64 arch-racist Gov of Mississippi] of the Northern Plains. I wouldn't
quarrel with that characterization -- ever. No Indian would -- and not many
labor people, either.
Tom Daschle was just one of the Dakota Democrats [South and North] who --
along with all of the Republicans -- didn't lift one finger on behalf of
Leonard Peltier's freedom. Nor did they utter a word of criticism when Bill
Clinton failed to pardon Leonard.
And North Dakota should certainly never be off the hook on any of these
issues -- or even on the outgoing edge. It has some very, very racist areas
in its own right: e.g. Devils Lake -- where we fought many Native rights
battles in the late '80s and early '90s; Leonard Peltier was "convicted" at
Fargo in that notoriously rigged trial; and no one has yet been arrested
for the September 2001 murders of the three Native men at Grand Forks where
the racial situation has been going steadily down hill. We continue to be
much involved in North Dakota Native rights and general race relations
I have a vast number of former University of North Dakota students -- Native
and non-Native -- all over the Dakotas, much of Minnesota, many in Montana
and Manitoba. I hear with regularity from a good number to this very
moment. Things are becoming tough [ and tougher ] all over that whole,
general region for everyone "of the fewest alternatives" -- a category
which is now including more and more folks. Farmers and ranchers have been
very hard hit for decades -- and for Native people it's always been
Dakota "justice" is known for its lop-sided selectivity: cruel to Natives
and Chicanos -- and other racial minorities -- and hostile to poor people
Ideological discussion and abstraction are fine in their place and
quantitative stuff certainly has its uses. But I'm one of those who looks
first at the actual and tangible "people" dimension. And in this situation,
the whole "justice" thing is once again put into its stark, dreary human
perspective -- one of obviously developing tragedy.
Jake Thompson, Sisseton-Wahpeton vice-chairman, is both a former student
[who took every UND course I offered] and a very old friend. When Jake says
something, it's solid.
"There is a double standard of justice, and it's been going on a long time,"
said Jake Thompson, vice-chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.
[From the news story.]
So here's the yet-another Dakota story:
Teen's jailing angers tribe
By LEE WILLIAMS Argus Leader
Sisseton-Wahpeton allege unfair treatment; county says charges justified
SISSETON - Adelia Godfrey spends her days alone in a dimly lit basement
cell. She is wondering whether to kill herself.
Godfrey, 17, was first arrested for misdemeanor charges nearly a month ago,
but a fight with officers at the Roberts County Jail led to two felony charges.
Now the Roberts County state's attorney wants to prosecute her as an adult.
If convicted, she could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.
"At night, I get panic attacks, and I worry I'll stop breathing," Godfrey
said Thursday before a court hearing in the case. "I get real scared and
depressed. I pray that I can go to sleep. There's no one for me to talk to. I think I'm losing my mind."
Members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, of which Godfrey is an
enrolled member, say her case is an example of a dual system of justice in Roberts County. The county is 68 percent white and 30 percent Native American.
Tribal members, who protested her incarceration last week, contend Native
American youth are targeted by police and want Godfrey moved to a tribal
facility instead of the adult jail.
Law enforcement officials say the girl is being held in the basement cell in
the Grant County Jail - called "the dungeon" by the sheriff who oversees
it - because there is no juvenile facility in the area that can take her.
The Roberts County state's attorney and the Sisseton chief of police say
Native Americans are treated no differently than whites. They say Godfrey "went ape" in the jail, sprayed an officer with a fire extinguisher, spit and tried to bite another officer. The charges fit the crime, authorities say.
Godfrey was one of several girls who cut themselves with broken light bulbs
while housed in a state juvenile prison in Plankinton.
Her thin arms are still covered with scars, some as thick as cigars. The
girl's family worries she may attempt suicide.
"She asked me ... if we have two lives," said Godfrey's mother, Shirley
Duggan, through tears. "I told her, 'No, honey, we only have just one. ... Please
take care of it.' "
Tribal members say Godfrey's case may be the most egregious example of a
legal system that preys upon tribal members, especially youth.
"There is a double standard of justice, and it's been going on a long time,"
said Jake Thompson, vice-chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.
Nontribal law enforcement officers scrutinize the actions of Native American
youths more than non-Indian youths, and that constitutes racial profiling,
"I've been told that by my own children, and the court stats will prove that
out," Thompson said.
Statistics are not available to show the numbers of whites and Indians
prosecuted for crimes in Roberts County or elsewhere in the state.
Gov. Bill Janklow commissioned a study of race in the justice system
following a series of complaints that culminated with a meeting of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Rapid City in December 1999. He criticized the report developed from that session but asked a University of South Dakota political science professor to study the issue. That report is due out this summer.
Thompson used a less-scientific method. Turning to the court page of the
Feb. 26 edition of The Sisseton Courier newspaper, he pointed to the names of
several people convicted in Roberts County courts.
"Indian, Indian, Indian, Indian. They're almost all Indians," he said, his
finger dancing from name to name.
Robert's County State's Attorney Kay Nikolas said she does not file charges
against people based on their race.
"I charge people on the basis of the crimes that they committed," Nikolas
Assault on police
Shirley Duggan called the police for help with her daughter around 2 a.m. on
Adelia Godfrey had been drinking with friends and was suspected of breaking
several windows out of her own home. Her mother later learned that one of
the other youths had broken the windows.
The teen-agers scattered when they saw the police car, but officers found
them nearby and took them to the Roberts County Jail, said Doug Flannery,
Sisseton's chief of police.
"When she found out she was going to be detained, she went ape," Flannery
Godfrey ran from the booking area into a nearby office, grabbed a fire
extinguisher and leaped onto a desk, Flannery said. She threatened to
discharge the extinguisher at the officer - and then did.
"He had to go to the hospital," Flannery said. "He broke out in a rash."
The unnamed officer and a Roberts County deputy sheriff pulled Godfrey from
the desk, handcuffed her and placed her in a restraint chair, Flannery said.
While subduing the 98-pound girl, the officers were kicked, Flannery said.
"She tried to bite the deputy," he said. "And she spit."
Flannery said the two resulting aggravated assault charges, each of which
carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, were appropriate for the
"When you kick and spit at officers, that's what you get," he said. "My
officer got assaulted, sprayed with the fire extinguisher."
Since Roberts County has no facilities for holding juvenile offenders,
Godfrey was taken to Milbank and lodged in the Grant County Jail.
The Grant County Jail is a two-level, 16-bed facility. It has eight beds on
the ground floor and eight beds in the basement. Grant County doesn't have a
separate unit for minors but keeps juveniles in the basement unit if there
are no adult inmates housed there.
When Godfrey arrived Feb. 9, the only inmates in the jail were six adult
males, housed on the ground floor. She was placed in the basement, a poorly lighted open bay, by herself.
Grant County Sheriff Michael McKernan has a name for the basement unit.
"We call it the dungeon," he said.
Godfrey's new living quarters are damp and dark and smell of mold. There are
no windows, and the two dim bulbs are never turned off. There's no natural
light source and no way to know whether it's day or night.
A camera tracks Godfrey's every move. When she showers, she crouches down
behind a waist-high concrete wall to limit what can be seen of her body on
the television monitor in the dispatch office.
There are no recreation or exercise facilities. Sheriff McKernan said either
he or his only deputy try to take prisoners outside, if time allows. But
Godfrey said her only exercise has been a walk to the squad car while she was being taken to court in Sisseton last week.
McKernan has been sheriff for 12 years. The jail, which he inherited, was
built in 1972. He's tried to commence renovations, but there's no money in the
budget, he said.
"I get the heebie-jeebies when I'm down there," Godfrey said. "It's scary.
The only time I get to talk to anybody is the lunch lady, when I get my meals,
and just for a couple minutes."
The conditions of Godfrey's confinement are worrisome to one juvenile
Marc Schindler is an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Youth Law
Center. His firm successfully sued the state and spawned major changes in its
juvenile corrections program after the death of Gina Score at the girls boot camp in Plankinton.
Given Godfrey's history of self-harm, Schindler had a warning for the
state's attorney and law enforcement in Sisseton.
"If the local officials are aware of these conditions and aware of her age
and background, they're putting themselves in serious liability by allowing her
to stay there," Schindler said. "They're facing major liability issues...
"She needs to be moved immediately."
Godfrey's first court appearance last Thursday morning was accompanied by a
small protest outside the courthouse and a Dakota drum group from Agency
Roberts County Sheriff Neil Long led Godfrey into the courtroom. She was
wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and leg shackles.
Thursday was juvenile court day, and the courtroom was full of children and
their families. Circuit Judge Jon Flemmer was halfway through explaining
their constitutional rights when the drum group started outside the courtroom.
Godfrey's 13-year-old sister entered the courtroom carrying one of the
protest signs and was quickly ushered out by Sheriff Long.
The hearing was brief. Godfrey was appointed an attorney and told she would
remain in the Grant County Jail until her next hearing Thursday. There is no
The state's attorney said Godfrey should remain in custody "for her own
protection and the protection of society."
Godfrey's mother told the court that her daughter was not a flight risk
because she was unemployed, had no money and all of her relatives lived in the Sisseton area. "Milbank is cruel and unusual punishment," Duggan told the court. "It doesn't make any sense to me."
Godfrey burst into tears when Flemmer ruled she would be returned to the
Grant County Jail.
In an interview after the hearing, Flemmer said he has seen no evidence of
racial profiling during his time on the bench.
"There isn't anything I've seen in Roberts County that leads me to believe
that law enforcement is out there selecting who they prosecute or arrest," he
said. "It's obvious there may be some societal problems."
Magistrate Judge Tony Portra holds court in Sisseton every Tuesday. Portra's
father is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe in North
"I would say there's an inordinate amount of Native Americans in court
compared to the percentage of Native Americans in the community," Portra said. "I don't know why. I don't see any evidence of (racial profiling) in court, but I'm not out following the officers around."
Chief Flannery said his officers don't profile by race. "We have a policy
against it," he said.
But Godfrey said Native American youths get labeled by the town's police
and, once labeled, are subjected to harassment.
"We understand the kids that we're having a lot of trouble with, and when
they're around, we keep an eye on them," he said. "But we don't label
'Nothing else I can do'
Shirley Duggan wonders why her daughter faces years in prison when another
teen killed a youth and was charged with only driving while intoxicated. "It's a
double standard," she said.
In August 2000, Justin Redday, a tribal member, was struck and killed on a
rural road by a white teen. A grand jury indicted the driver for vehicular
homicide, but then-State's Attorney Kerry Cameron dismissed the count and
charged the driver in juvenile court with drunken driving.
Cameron lost his job as Robert's County state's attorney to Nikolas in the
November 2000 election. He is now the court-appointed defense attorney for
Roberts County, though he was not given Godfrey's case.
Della Eastman, who founded the Eastern Dakota Chapter of the American Indian Movement in Sisseton, organized protests after Redday was killed. She sat through Godfrey's hearing with Darlene Pipeboy, Godfrey's great-aunt.
"I see the court as being one-sided. There's a dual justice system here,"
Eastman said. "They try (tribal) members differently than non-Indians. I
don't agree with the court's decision."
Pipeboy, a respected elder, also is concerned about the result of the
"The racial profiling offsets the feeling the youth should have that they're
a member of the community," Pipeboy said. "They can't come and go as they
Godfrey was fatalistic about what transpired.
"I have to accept the court's decision," she said. "There's nothing else I
Rose Chase, 66, is one of several of Godfrey's surrogate grandmothers.
"All of this is repetitive," she said. "When I was young, the Indian agents
used to chase me around and bring me home. My mother, who didn't speak
English, worried about me. Eventually, they put me in Plankinton, just like Adelia (Godfrey)."
Said Pipeboy: "The Dakota word for children - wakaneja - means sacred
people. That's how we as a people feel about our youth. But this perspective is not heard in a courtroom, where Indians are looked upon as troublemakers."