The father of an 11-year-old Navajo girl who was kidnapped and murdered last May is suing the tribe for failing to have an emergency notification system in place that might have saved his daughter’s life.
Gary Mike has filed a civil complaint against the Navajo Nation, its Division of Public Safety and its Department of Law Enforcement, claiming officials dragged their feet during the investigation, leading directly to the death of his daughter. Ashlynne Mike and her 9-year-old brother were abducted at about 4 p.m. on May 2, 2016, as they were walking home from the bus stop in the San Juan Chapter, in northwest New Mexico.
Ashlynne was found dead at about 11:30 a.m. the next day, on a dirt road 25 miles from her home. Her brother survived after walking miles through the desert for help.
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Tom Begaye Jr., 27, of Waterflow, New Mexico, was charged with murder and sexual abuse. He pleaded not guilty in federal court in June and awaits trial.
In his complaint, filed in the Shiprock, New Mexico, District Court in December 2016, Gary Mike claims law enforcement agencies failed for hours to issue an Amber Alert that might have saved Ashlynne’s life. Mike filed a missing person report at 6:53 p.m. May 2, but officials didn’t issue an Amber Alert until 2:30 a.m.—about 10 hours after Ashlynne Mike went missing.
Cases qualify for Amber Alerts when law enforcement can confirm an abduction of a child under age 17 has taken place, the child is at risk of serious injury or death and a sufficient description of the child and abductor is available. All of these requirements were met, the complaint states.
“In fact, this would have been the perfect opportunity for the issuance of an Amber Alert,” the complaint states. “The horrifying delay in issuance of the alert directly caused the death of Ashlynne Mike.”
Mike also claims the Navajo Nation was negligent in sending out officers to respond to the missing person report. The FBI was not notified of the kidnapping until about 9 p.m.
“A truly concerted search was not initiated until after 2 a.m.—almost eight hours after the initial report,” the complaint states. “The entire search and investigation was mishandled, and the Navajo Nation’s own failings directly contributed to Ashlynne’s death.”
When reached by phone, Mike declined to comment. His attorney, David Jordan, also declined to comment while the criminal case against Begaye is pending.
“What makes this horrible event even worse is the admission of the killer … that he left Ashlynne to die in the desert near Shiprock,” the complaint states. “She was alive when he left her and if a concentrated search had been begun immediately upon the making of the report, it would have saved her life.”
The lawsuit also claims the tribe on several occasions during the last 10 years mismanaged funding allocated for the implementation of an Amber Alert system. It names Ivan Tsosie, former acting police chief for the Navajo Nation and currently a police captain in Shiprock, and claims he is responsible for the mismanaged funds and the mishandling of the investigation into Ashlynne’s disappearance. Shortly after Ashlynne’s death, Tsosie was put on administrative leave.
Mike is seeking $3 million from the tribe for Ashlynne’s death and the emotional distress her brother experienced.
The lawsuit comes as the Navajo Nation continues to work on establishing an Amber Alert system. Eight months after the murder, the tribe announced implementation of an Integrated Public Alert & Warning System that will provide all wireless phone customers with information on “imminent threats” including natural and man-made disasters, as well as Amber Alerts.
Such alerts will also be issued via radio and television stations, Navajo President Russell Begaye said in a statement. Shortly after Ashlynne’s death, Begaye created a task force to implement an alert system on the reservation.
“Since the death of our daughter, the Navajo Nation has worked diligently to establish an Amber Alert and 911 system,” Begaye said in his statement. “The Amber Alert is in effect and has been utilized a few times since implementation in the protection of our children.”
The system is expected to be fully active by early February.