BROWNING, Mont. (AP) – The January stabbing death of 18-year-old Zach Gervais and the apparent lack of punishment for that and other crimes dominated a meeting called to air complaints about law enforcement on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Tribal forester Robert Mad Plume held up his 1-year-old granddaughter, Melina.
”This is Zach’s baby, and she’s fatherless now,” Mad Plume said, tears running down his cheeks.
”It’s so sad that nothing has happened to the man who left this baby without a father, and I can’t stand it any more,” he said at the meeting April 18.
In attendance were BIA Blackfeet Agency Supervisor Steve Pollock, BIA Police Chief Clifford Serawop, Glacier County Sheriff Wayne Dusterhoff, Montana Highway Patrol Col. Paul Grimstad, FBI Special Agent Scott Cruse and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thaggart. Rep. Denny Rehberg also sent a representative.
The three-hour, standing-room-only meeting in the Blackfeet Nation council chambers was organized by the tribal business council because of persistent complaints about law enforcement, which has been run by the BIA on the reservation since February 2003.
”They say when you want to get away with murder, come to the Blackfeet Reservation,” Mad Plume said. ”And that’s what’s happening.”
Melina’s mother, Robin Mad Plume, said such crimes would not go unpunished off the reservation.
”I’m going to go back to school and study criminology so I can come back here because I want to make a difference,” she said, beginning to cry. ”We had this dream that we were going to be a family, but the police need to put this monster away.”
A 16-year-old suspect arrested on tribal charges is being held pending results of a federal investigation, Serawop said.
Robin Mad Plume said murder is all too familiar on the reservation.
Nuggett Mad Plume said he was still struggling to get justice for the stabbing death of his brother, Crickett.
Kayo Bearmedicine said she and her husband, Melvin, had lost both of their daughters.
”One of our daughters was killed in an accident, and our little baby was killed by a drunken driver,” she said. ”He spent two days in jail, paid a $250 fine and 30 days in the halfway house. But I see him around town. The other day, I saw him coming out of a store with a case of beer under his arm.”
Alfred Still Smoking said his daughter was killed by a drunk driver on New Year’s Day 2006.
”I believe that these individuals and agencies have dropped the ball,” he said, eyeing the officials at the tables up front. ”I believe that the system has victimized all of us.
”We have all talked about vigilante law, and perhaps it will come to that,” he added. ”We hope you will prosecute and convict these people, but if not, who can tell?”
Children often suffer the most, said Ginny Farmer Lawson.
”They’re living in alcoholic households, suffering from meth exposure and abuse,” she said.
BIA officials have declined comment on ongoing investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad has said much of the frustration comes from federal law enforcement procedures.
”Unlike the state system, since we’re not a peacekeeping force, we can’t lock someone up while we investigate,” Rostad said. ”We have only a limited time to prosecute so we have to have an investigation completed before we can make an arrest. And that’s not a very satisfactory system for people on a reservation who see a crime committed and want to see the person who committed it led away in chains immediately.”