Justice News

Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio Delivers Remarks at the 26th Annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference
Santa Fe, NM
United States
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, John (Huber), for that kind introduction and for your leadership in the District of Utah.  What a pleasure it is to be back in the Tenth Circuit, where I began my legal career as a judicial law clerk.   Thanks also to the other federal leaders who are here today, including the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, John Anderson; First Assistant U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Betsy Strange; and First Assistant U.S. Attorney for Colorado, Matthew Kirsch.  I know that each of your offices, along with DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, put in a lot of hard and good work to prepare for and host this conference each year.  And I know that, on a daily basis, you and your teams are working tenaciously to fight violent crime, to drive down opioid and other drug overdoses, and to defend and advance the rule of law in our courts.  You are getting results, so keep up the fight.

It is also a pleasure to see here today so many tribal leaders and so many of our partners in law enforcement, health services, and victim services.  Your work in fighting crime and helping victims restore their lives is so very important.  Please accept my thanks on behalf of the Attorney General.

The fact that this is the twenty-sixth annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference is a testament to its importance.  As demonstrated by the breadth of issues you are covering at this conference, tribal communities face many of the same law-enforcement and victim issues we find elsewhere, but they also face unique challenges that require careful attention.  This kind of gathering helps foster the cooperation and solutions necessary to tackle both.

One of the most urgent problems facing American Indian and Alaska Native communities is domestic violence and sexual assault.  These crimes affect every community, but, tragically, Native women face higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence homicide than almost any other group.  A 2016 National Institute for Justice study concluded that more than half of all Native women have experienced sexual violence and physical violence by an intimate partner.  All too often, these instances of violence against women are part of an escalating cycle, which has resulted in alarming homicide rates. 

This cycle must cease, and the Department of Justice is committed to addressing this crisis.  First, our prosecutors are working every day to bring violent offenders to justice, to reduce and prevent crime.  Second, through our grant programs, we are helping communities become safer and providing victims with a full range of services and support. 

Effective, widespread, and timely prosecutions are critical to stopping the cycle of domestic violence.   Early intervention that interrupts or deters a pattern of escalating violence is the key to avoiding future, and sometimes deadly, violence. 

The Department has prosecuted an increasing number of habitual offenders in Indian country under a federal statute enacted in 2005, which focuses on domestic assaults by offenders with at least two prior convictions for any domestic assault in a federal, state, or tribal court.

We have heard from tribal leaders about the need for robust prosecutions of assailants and investigations of missing women and human trafficking victims.  The Department of Justice has heeded these concerns, and Attorney General Sessions and many others at the Department have made it a priority to reduce violent crime and to address challenging public-safety issues such as the trafficking of Native American girls and those missing and murdered. 

One of the primary challenges in this area is ensuring that we have enough prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable.  To that end, the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women is funding Tribal Special Assistant United States Attorneys (known as Tribal SAUSAs).  These prosecutors are able to bring cases in both tribal and federal courts, and adding them to our law enforcement community will help ensure that more cases do not fall through the cracks.  We are committed to seeking justice for Native American and Alaskan Native women who have been victims of domestic or sexual violence.

In OVW’s pilot project, Tribal SAUSAs reported a wide range of successes, including: prosecution of cases that otherwise would not have been brought; increased trust and better relationships among tribal law enforcement, victim services, victims, and the participating United States Attorney’s Office; and greater accountability for violence-against-women-related crimes in Indian country.  Tribal SAUSAs have also been able to serve as advocates for their tribe’s perspectives and needs, which helps the tribe have more input into successful prosecutions.

One example of the pilot project’s success occurred right here in the District of New Mexico, where the Tribal SAUSA brought federal charges against an assailant who had two prior tribal convictions for domestic violence.  The defendant was sentenced to forty months in federal prison under the habitual domestic violence offender statute. 

Building on successes like these is critical to our efforts to stop domestic violence against Native women, and that’s why OVW is re-launching the Tribal SAUSA Project with improvements based on feedback from Tribes and U.S. Attorneys.  OVW plans to use a fellowship model to help attract qualified attorneys who will make a three-year commitment to prosecute crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in both tribal and federal courts.  Sex trafficking cases that involve one of these four crimes also may be prosecuted by the Tribal SAUSA under the grant.  Special training for the Tribal SAUSA’s will be provided through the National Advocacy Center’s National Indian Country Training Initiative.

In addition to the Tribal SAUSA relaunch, the Department is expanding the Tribal Access Program (TAP) for National Crime Information.  TAP provides federally recognized tribes access to national crime information databases for both civil and criminal purposes.  By the end of fiscal year 2018, 47 tribes will be in the program, which also provides training to support tribal government needs.  The Department is currently soliciting tribes that are interested in participating in the fiscal year 2019 TAP deployment.  Tribes may apply through October 1, 2018, and will be notified shortly thereafter if they are selected to participate.

In addition to assigning more prosecutors and expanding TAP, the Department of Justice is funding programs that are developed by tribes to address their particular public safety needs, and to provide service to victims of crime.

I am pleased to announce today that the Department of Justice has identified up to $246 million to devote to public safety and victim services in American Indian and Alaska Native villages.   This funding comes from two sources.

First, the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation is a streamlined application that allows tribes to define their specific public-safety goals and purpose areas, because we know tribal nations are in a better position than the federal government to determine what will serve their communities best.  Grants in previous years have helped tribes deliver better services public-safety results for their communities.  To take a few examples:

The Yurok Tribe in California received funds to build a multi-purpose justice center, complete with a courtroom, probation department, and other offices.  For years, the tribe—the largest in the state—had no holding area, and officials were forced to send adults and juveniles to hearings at off-reservation courts.  The grant gave the tribe the resources they needed to construct a fully operational facility that now houses an array of judicial and administrative offices, including a cuff bench for in-custody defendants.

Another grant gave the Pueblo of Jemez funds to start a community outreach and victim assistance program that focuses on combating elder abuse.  The project allowed tribal officials to develop an elder code, create a system of elder advocacy services, and launch a community-wide public education campaign.

And yet another grant gave the Muskogee Creek Nation—one of the largest tribes in the country—the funds they needed to start a family-violence prevention program.  The grant paid for a victim advocate dedicated to helping sexual assault survivors and a youth advocate who serves victims of teen dating violence.  Funds also supported a range of civil legal assistance that gives victims access to local attorneys and helps them pursue protective orders.

As these examples show, grant-by-grant, project-by-project we are building up the resources, capacities, and training available to individual tribal communities.  A solution to the domestic violence and other crime problems facing tribal communities will not come about overnight.  Instead, a long-term commitment is needed.  And that is why we are continuing and expanding these grant programs. 

Today we are awarding more than $113 million in grants to improve public safety, serve victims of crime, combat violence against women, and support youth programs in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.  We have awarded grants to 133 American Indian tribes, Alaska Native villages, and other tribal designees.  Of the $113 million, just over $53 million comes from the Office of Justice Programs, more than $35 million from the Office on Violence Against Women, and more than $24 million from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

The second source of funding is the Crime Victims Fund.  By September 30, 2018, the Department anticipates making up to $133 million in grant awards to eligible tribes, tribal consortia, and tribal designees under the Tribal Set-Aside Program to support a wide-range of services for victims of crime.  The awards are intended to help tribes develop, expand, and improve services to victims of crime by providing funding, programming and technical assistance.

President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 goes even further.  It proposes a five-percent tribal assistance set-aside in the Crime Victims Fund.  This is just one of many ways that this Administration is addressing the needs of tribal communities. 

All told, we are doubling the amount of grant funding devoted to public-safety and victim services in Native American communities this year.  This increase in resources, together with our aggressive investigation and prosecution of crimes, shows how seriously Attorney General Sessions and the entire Department of Justice take these issues.  We are committed to reducing violent crime and improving public safety in tribal communities.  Justice demands it, the victims deserve it, and with cooperative efforts between federal, state, and tribal governments, we must deliver it.

Thank you, again, for all of your efforts to advance tribal public safety, for this important conference, and for all of your work in securing justice and the rule of law in the Four Corners.

Indian Country Law and Justice
Updated September 19, 2018