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United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson announced the release of a Department of Justice report to Congress entitled Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions. The report focuses on law enforcement efforts in Indian country and was a requirement of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010.
The report indicated that South Dakota is a national leader in the work performed in Indian country. U.S. Attorney Johnson served as Chairman of the Justice Department’s Native American Issues Subcommittee from 2009-2013. In that capacity, he testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Sept. 22, 2011 at a hearing entitled “Tribal Law and Order Act One Year Later: Have We Improved Public Safety and Justice Throughout Indian Country?” Johnson highlighted the progress being made in South Dakota and nationwide, and those efforts are reflected in the report.
On the national level, the report shows a 54 percent increase in Indian Country criminal prosecutions from 2009-2012. During that same time period, the Justice Department saw a significant reduction in the number of criminal cases from Indian Country that were declined. The most common reasons for declination were insufficient evidence and referral to another prosecuting authority.
South Dakota has been a national leader in increased prosecutions and decreased declinations. Over the last four years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota has seen an increase in prosecutions of 131% on Rosebud and 82% on Pine Ridge, South Dakota’s largest reservations. The report also reveals that the number of declined cases in South Dakota fell from 164 in CY 2011 to 114 in CY 2012.
U.S. Attorney Johnson attributes much of the success to a new relationship with tribes in South Dakota and across the country. “Four years ago many were skeptical that we could significantly improve public safety on South Dakota’s reservations. Those people were wrong. This report to Congress reveals that we have significantly increased prosecutions and are working closely with tribal and federal law enforcement to make tribal communities a safer place to live. There is still much work to be done, but there is no question we have found the right path and are making progress,” said Johnson.
Since 2009, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota has undertaken an unprecedented effort to improve public safety on the reservations. The implementation of the Community Prosecution Strategy (CPS) in 2010 was initiated by U.S. Attorney Johnson as an effort to help restore public safety in South Dakota tribal communities. The CPS remains a work in progress, and some of the highlights to date include:
• The Community Prosecution Pilot Program implemented at Pine Ridge has proven to be successful in a number of areas. Through committed outreach efforts, such as public meetings and forums to address public safety matters, relationships have improved with the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) Attorney General’s Office, tribal officials, and law enforcement. As a direct result of the pilot program, the U.S. Attorney’s office communicates regularly with the OST Attorney General’s Office concerning prosecutions of mutual interest, and how best to prosecute offenders over whom both entities have jurisdiction.
• Successfully wrote and submitted a proposal for the creation of a special domestic violence prosecutor on the Standing Rock Reservation. A landmark Memorandum of Understanding was signed July 10, 2012 between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in North Dakota. The agreement authorized the hiring of a Special Assistant United States Attorney to pursue prosecutions in federal and tribal courts that involve violence against women cases, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The new prosecutor has been appointed and will have authority to pursue those cases in federal court in both South Dakota and North Dakota, and also the Standing Rock tribal court.
• Initiated a program to encourage tribal, state, and local law enforcement officers to obtain Special Law Enforcement Commissions (SLECs). Through an agreement with the BIA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has the primary responsibility for providing the SLEC training. Law enforcement members possessing SLECs have broader authority to enforce federal criminal laws in tribal communities. An Assistant U.S. Attorney from South Dakota was selected to be part of the National SLEC Task Force that was charged with rewriting the SLEC curriculum and format of the examination. The exam is given around the country, and the Task Force worked in conjunction with the BIA on this project.
• Continues a strong relationship with BIA leadership. In early 2012, U.S. Attorney Johnson spent two days in Washington working with the law enforcement director of the BIA to discuss staffing and personnel issues. It was also announced in 2012 that the Rosebud Reservation was selected as the second reservation in South Dakota to receive the High Priority Performance Goals Program through the BIA. This program has increased the number of law enforcement officers on the Rosebud Reservation.
• Active participation in the monthly Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) meetings. The MDT meetings provide a roundtable format for BIA and tribal law enforcement, mental health counselors, IHS nurse practitioners, social services, FBI, and Tribal CASA, to discuss violence against children investigations. These meetings serve as an opportunity to identify challenges and discuss improvement efforts.
• Host an annual conference on victim advocacy. The two-state conference is co-sponsored by the District of South Dakota and District of North Dakota; the BIA Office of Justice Services; and the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime. The purpose of the conference is to provide culturally appropriate training to anyone who works with Native American victims of crime. *Due to sequestration conference not authorized to be held in 2013.
• U.S. Attorney Johnson has been actively involved with the South Dakota Domestic Violence Coordinating Committee (SDDVCC). The SDDVCC was formed in 2012 and is an organization led by the South Dakota Coalition Ending Domestic & Sexual Violence and the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault. The organization includes law enforcement leaders from the state, federal, and tribal levels and is designed to protect and represent the interests of survivors of domestic and sexual assault. The SDVCC selected Johnson as their Prosecutor of the Year for 2013.
The Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions report shows a new era of partnership between the federal government and American Indian tribes, including an unprecedented level of collaboration with tribal law enforcement. The increase in collaboration and communication strengthens the bond of trust between federal and tribal investigators, prosecutors, and other personnel in both federal and tribal criminal justice systems.
Read the entire report at www.justice.gov/tribal.
Read about the Justice Department’s efforts to increase public safety in Indian County at http://www.justice.gov/tribal/accomplishments.html