Analysis and Refutation of the FBI’s “Accounting” for AIM Fatalities on Pine Ridge, 1973-1976
In May 2000, the Minneapolis Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a “report” entitled Accounting for Native American Deaths: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota. The document, which purports to disprove allegations that the FBI failed to properly investigate the murders of 57 members and supporters of the American Indian Movement (AIM) on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation during the height of the FBI’s anti-AIM operations there (March 1973 through March 1976), is so full of distortions, half-truths and outright falsehoods that it literally demands rebuttal.
What follows, therefore, is a point-by-point analysis of the myriad inaccuracies in the Bureau’s polemic. Those few instances in which it provides additional, clarifying, or otherwise useful information will also be noted.
The official untruths begin on the very first page of Accounting for Native American Deaths, with a “Forward” provided by Douglas J. Domin, Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Field Office, wherein it is claimed that the document was produced by his agents in response to new information provided to his office by the South Dakota Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights in December 1999. This information, SAC Domin observes, consisted of “a list of fifty-seven names” of individuals who died violently on Pine Ridge during the years 1973-76, along “with allegations that their deaths had not been investigated” by the FBI (which held/holds jurisdiction and primary investigative responsibility within all federal trust territories, including American Indian reservations).
Submission of this list and attendant allegations, SAC Domin continues, “for the first time, provided the FBI with specific information to address” in connection with longstanding “rumors” that the Bureau had, at best, frequently turned a blind eye to the murders of AIM people on Pine Ridge during the mid-70s. “The names of murder victims were not attached to the rumors,” he claims, and “addressing the allegations could not be [previously] accomplished.” Once it was provided the names, he concludes, his office quickly prepared and began to disseminate its report for purposes of clarifying or correcting the record and “protect[ing] the [public] confidence the FBI must have to accomplish its mission.”
This presentation of “fact” is pure hogwash from start to finish.
First of all, SAC Domin seems completely unaware that the Bureau itself confirmed its pattern of not investigating the murders of AIM people on Pine Ridge a quarter-century hence, while the deaths were still occurring. This 1975 verification was made by George O’Clock, then Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Rapid City Resident Agency, the facility most directly responsible for investigating crimes on Pine Ridge. Responding to press queries as to why so many recent homicides on and around the reservation had gone unsolved, O’Clock announced quite straightforwardly that his office was in general “too shorthanded” to delve into such matters.
Secondly, as the allegations quoted in the report itself make absolutely clear, it is not alleged that “none” of the 57 homicides were investigated by the Bureau. In eight cases the allegations state clearly that an FBI investigation is classified as either “ongoing” or “pending” after 25 years. In a further six cases, it is alleged that investigations were conducted, but that they were marred by severe defects. Hence, Domin’s presentation misrepresents 14 of 57 allegations before the “accounting” even begins.
Third, this was by no means “the first time” the FBI has had an opportunity to address the list of names and allegations in question. Along with Jim Vander Wall, I initially assembled it in 1987 from fragmentary records provided by Bruce Ellison, Ken Tilson and Candy Hamilton, all former members of the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee (WKLDOC). A portion of it was then published in my and Vander Wall’s 1988 Agents of Repression (pp. 184-88), the first six copies of which book were acquired by the FBI library in Washington, DC. Refined and expanded in 1989, the list was then published again in my and Vander Wall’s book The COINTELPRO Papers (pp. 393-4), copies of which were also acquired by the FBI library. The same list was also published as an attachment to an essay included in my 1994 Indians Are Us? (pp. 197-205), and still again in my 1996 From A Native Son (pp. 257-60). It has, moreover, been in continuous distribution by the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC) for the past six years.
Had the FBI felt the least institutional need to reassure the American public of its integrity by reporting on these particular matters – or believed itself obliged to correct what it sees as inaccuracies in the historical record – it could and should have done so at any point since the names and allegations first came into its possession more than a decade ago. The Bureau did no such thing, and it follows that the motives underlying the release of Accounting for Native American Deaths at this late date must be other than those described by SAC Domin.
The question at hand is thus what the FBI’s real motives might be. To this, the only plausible answer is that in issuing such material now, the Bureau is hoping to undermine prospects that imprisoned AIM member Leonard Peltier, currently in his 24th year of incarceration after being wrongly convicted of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 firefight on Pine Ridge, might receive clemency from President Bill Clinton before the first of the year. To the extent that the list of allegations can be discredited, so the reasoning goes, AIM will be discredited, and so, by extension, will Peltier.
Viewed in this light, it is not hard to see that the report has nothing to do with a pursuit of truth or justice. To the contrary, it is difficult to imagine a more vindictive and duplicitous agenda than that prompting its publication. The FBI’s document thereby stands revealed for exactly what it is: a patent piece of political propaganda.
Omissions in Contextualization
Several key aspects of the allegations are carefully avoided in Accounting for Native Americans. They include the fact that the murders occurred amidst a concerted campaign of repression conducted by the FBI against the American Indian Movement on Pine Ridge during the mid-70s, that the 57 victims consist almost entirely of AIM members and supporters (or their children), and that the perpetrators, where they’ve been identified, consist primarily of known members of the so-called GOON Squad (or GOONs, the self-proclaimed “Guardians of the Oglala Nation,” an FBI-aligned paramilitary organization active on the reservation during the period). A major contention of those involved in preparing and disseminating the list to which the FBI report supposedly responds is that the killings often amounted not simply to murders, but to a pattern of officially sponsored terrorism.
AIM as well as several independent researchers have alleged all along that the crux of what happened on Pine Ridge rested upon the FBI’s relationship with the GOON Squad, an entity formed in 1972 by then Tribal President Richard “Dickie” Wilson to intimidate his critics, and underwritten through a combination of federal appropriations and the misappropriation of several hundred thousand dollars in funds designated for such purposes as road repair on the reservation. It should be noted that approximately one-third of those employed as BIA police officers on Pine Ridge doubled as members of Wilson’s GOON Squad, and that Delmar Eastman, head of the reservation police force, served simultaneously overall as GOON commander.
By March 1973, the Bureau appears to have assumed de facto control over the GOONs, providing them with weapons, ammunition, explosives, communications gear, field intelligence and what amounted to blanket immunity from prosecution so long as they hit the right targets. For the next three years the GOONs served as an anti-AIM death squad functioning under the auspices of the FBI.
Correspondingly, the Bureau’s investigations of murders committed by GOONs, where they were undertaken at all, served mainly to hide the facts and protect the perpetrators. As a matter of record, the Bureau has historically cultivated similar arrangements with rightwing paramilitary/vigilante organizations since at least as early as 1917. Salient examples include nationwide connection with the American Protective League during World War I, various elements of the Ku Klux Klan during the early 1960s, the Secret Army Organization in southern California during the late 1960s/early 1970s, and the Legion of Justice in Chicago during the 1970s.
The FBI has of course pooh-poohed or ignored such allegations from the outset. Much of the mainstream media has followed suit despite repeated findings by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that many of AIM’s charges have merit. The same conclusion was reached by the jury in the 1976 murder trial of AIM members Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, after it had been presented with a broad recounting of the evidence. Indeed, this all-white Middle-American jury found that the “reign of terror” fostered by the Bureau on Pine Ridge was sufficient to warrant any reasonable person using armed force to defend themselves against FBI personnel. (Robideau and Butler were acquitted of murdering agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler on the basis that they acted legitimately, in self-defense). Still another substantiation of AIM’s contentions concerning the FBI/GOON relationship was offered by Duane Brewer, former second-in-command of the GOON Squad, during a lengthy interview with journalists Kevin McKiernan and Michel DuBois during the mid-80s.
Like the list victims/allegations itself, such material has been published repeatedly over the past decade and has thus been readily available to the Bureau. Insofar as Accounting for Native American Deaths provides no hint that such matters are at issue, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the FBI, seeking to lend an aura of credibility to the report’s “explanations” of specific cases which would otherwise be lacking, has deliberately misrepresented the situation it purports to address therein.
A few additional points need to be made before going into the FBI’s “accountings” in individual cases. One is that the position taken by Vander Wall and me – and consequently by the LPDC and the South Dakota Advisory Committee on Civil Rights – is that no successful murder prosecutions ensued from the FBI is not to say that, under certain circumstances, perpetrators (or their surrogates) were not occasionally charged and convicted of lesser offenses. We discount such outcomes, however, on the grounds that convicting a serial killer of Storelifting in no way “resolves” serial killings.
Another is that, irrespective of the Bureau’s technical vernacular, agents actually have to investigate something for an FBI investigation to have occurred. Agents cannot have simply photocopied another agents paperwork and placed it in a file marked “case closed.” We realize that such procedures have served the Bureau well in annual statistical summaries of its performance – and in defensive polemics such as the one at hand – but they add up to little more than a conscious deception on the part of those employing them. Finally, contrary to its customary practice, the FBI is not legitimately entitled to credit itself with convictions accruing from an investigation conducted by another police agency.
While it is true that several murder convictions were obtained against the killers of AIM people on Pine Ridge, we hold that none of them resulted from an FBI investigation, per se. There are also serious questions in those instances with respect to the degree of murder charged, the sentence imposed, and the amount of time actually served. (The charges and penalties visited upon AIM members like Richard Marshall and Leonard Peltier should be used as a basis of comparison.)
With all this said, it is time to move to specifics. Since the itemization of cases in Accounting for Native American Deaths follows no discernable order – it is neither alphabetical nor chronological, nor grouped according to cause of death or investigative outcome – I’ve taken the liberty of rearranging the sequence of refutations in accordance with my own preferences.
Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash
The FBI report states that Aquash’s body was discovered “in September 1976.”
It was actually discovered on February 24 of that year. The report goes on to state that the cause of death “was determined to be a gunshot wound to the head.” Unmentioned is the fact that the official cause of death listed after the initial autopsy, performed by FBI contract coroner W.O. Brown, was “exposure.”
Only a second autopsy, demanded by Aquash’s family and performed by independent pathologist Garry Peterson, revealed the gunshot wound. Although the allegation to which the FBI is responding points out that neither the coroner nor FBI personnel present during the initial autopsy have ever been deposed in the Bureau’s still “ongoing” investigation of the murder, the report observes only that “the coroner was not deposed [because he] died shortly after the autopsy” (in reality, it was more than a year later). No mention is made of the FBI personnel involved, agents David Price and William Wood. Finally, it is implied that the victim had been placed at risk of retribution from AIM members because of “rumors that Aquash had cooperated with the government and was an FBI informant.” The role played by Douglass Durham and other FBI infiltrators in fostering these rumors – and that this is a standard Bureau counterintelligence technique known as “badjacketing” (or “snitch-jacketing”) designed to “neutralize” the political effectiveness of targeted activists – is neglected altogether.
Lena R. Slow Bear, Delphine Crow Dog, Elaine Wagner and Edward Means, Jr.
The cause of death indicated with respect to each of these individuals is “exposure.” The autopsy on each of the deceased was performed by W.O. Brown. In view of Dr. Brown’s performance in the Aquash case, there is no reason to accept the validity of his findings at face value. Other than filing the coroner’s reports, the FBI conducted no investigation into any of these deaths.
Lydia Cut Grass
The FBI report concedes that it was “initially suspected” that Cut Grass died as a result of a beating. After an autopsy performed by W.O.Brown, however, the charge of death was changed to “overconsumption of liquor.” The FBI filed Brown’s findings and closed the case.
Julia Pretty Hips
Cause of death is indicated as “carbon tetrachloride poisoning [leading to] pneumonia.” No suggestion is offered as to why, if this were so, the body would have been found outdoors rather than home in bed. The report goes on to state that an autopsy revealed “no signs of trauma to her body,” neglecting to mention that the autopsy was performed by the same Dr. W.O. Brown who managed to “overlook” a bullet fired pointblank into the head of Anna Mae Aquash even though, according to the lab technicians who were present, the wound was leaking blood onto to the morgue table. Beyond filing Brown’s paperwork, the FBI conducted no investigation.
Hilda R. Good Buffalo
In another W.O. Brown cause of death finding regurgitated as “fact” in Accounting for Native American Deaths, Good Buffalo is said to have succumbed to “carbon monoxide poisoning, acute alcoholism and other factors” during a “small fire in her house.” The source of the fire is not identified, nor is it indicated whether the “other factors” involved might include a stab wound to the neck the victim is noted as having suffered just before she died. Beyond filing Brown’s “accidental death” report, the FBI conducted no investigation.
Witnesses stated that Reddy was shot to death and identified the murderer as a known member of the GOON Squad. W.O. Brown, on the other hand, concluded during the autopsy that the victim had instead been stabbed twice in the heart. Absent the slugs which would attend gunshot wounds, the FBI concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to pursue an investigation and closed the case. One may perhaps be forgiven for observing that collection of otherwise insufficient evidence is supposed to be precisely the purpose of an FBI investigation. It should also be noted that, as a matter of policy, all unresolved homicides occurring within FBI jurisdiction are to retain an “ongoing” status. Closing the investigation in this instance amounts to no investigation at all.
Andrew Paul Stewart, Aloysius Long Soldier and John S. Moore
The FBI report offers as plausible propositions advanced by the BIA police and other such agencies that each of these individuals killed himself. Although each such contention is dubious in its own right, the most preposterous is that Moore committed suicide by stabbing himself in the face and throat. Self-evidently, there were no homicide investigations by the FBI.
In a similar twist, the report contends that Roark accidentally shot herself with a .357 magnum revolver and that an FBI investigation was therefore unnecessary. While this is of course possible, it fails to explain why a 1987 inquiry with the FBI’s Rapid City Resident Agency on the disposition of this case was met with the response that no information could be provided because it was the subject of a “pending” investigation.
Phillip Black Elk
The report concurs with allegations that Black Elk died as a result of an explosion in his home and that there was no FBI investigation. It claims, however, that since the blast is attributed to a propane leak it was necessarily “accidental” and an investigative follow-up was consequently unwarranted. As any good arson investigator will attest, however, such logic is faulty at best. Staging the appearance of accidental detonations is a common technique commonly employed by arsonists and assassins alike.
It should be noted that in 1979 AIM leader John Trudell’s entire family was killed under very similar circumstances, and with an identical lack of response from the FBI, on the Duck Valley Paiute Reservation. Presiding over the investigation of the Trudell family’s death was local BIA police chief Benny Richards, a GOON prominent on Pine Ridge at the time of Black Elk’s death.
Edith Eagle Hawk and Her Two Children
The report observes that the victims died in a “two car accident” north of Pine Ridge, and that the “matter was not investigated by the FBI because it occurred off the reservation, outside federal jurisdiction.” Unmentioned are the facts that Eagle Hawk was en route to Rapid City to testify in federal court concerning GOON violence on Pine Ridge, that the driver of the other vehicle was Albert Coomes, a white vigilante known to be involved with the GOONs (witnesses reported that another known GOON was a passenger in his car), that witnesses described how Coomes appeared to have forced Eagle Hawk’s vehicle off the road, and that murder of a federal witness falls under FBI jurisdiction, no matter where it occurs.
Betty Jo Dubray
The report states that “her death was the result of a car/truck accident, and no investigation was conducted by the FBI.” No mention is made of witness accounts of her being beaten up before being helped into her vehicle, which was then deliberately rammed by a truck driven by a member of the GOON Squad.
Jancita Eagle Deer
The report recounts simply that Eagle Deer was struck by an automobile and killed while standing in the middle of a remote stretch of Nebraska highway in the dead of night. It is not mentioned that she was last seen alive in the car of FBI infiltrator Douglass Durham, or that he had recently used her as a pawn in an elaborate counterintelligence gambit designed to discredit AIM leader Dennis Banks and was in the process of trying to cover his tracks.
Also neglected are the facts that the driver of the car which hit her described Eagle Deer as appearing to have been “drunk” immediately prior to the impact, but that an autopsy revealed no alcohol or other intoxicants to have been present in her bloodstream. This obviously raises the question of whether her peculiar behavior resulted from having been beaten senseless and dumped along the road, presumably by Durham, before regaining consciousness and being run over. Whatever the truth, the FBI displayed absolutely no interest in investigating one of its own.
Cleveland Reddest, Priscilla White Plume and Melvin Spider
The cause of death indicated in each of these cases is “hit and run,” a finding which hardly precludes vehicular homicide. In the case of Reddest, it is noted that the victim appeared to have been “lying in the road before the accident.” As in the Eagle Deer case, however, an autopsy revealed no alcohol or other intoxicants to have been present in his bloodstream, a matter strongly suggesting he may have been beaten unconscious before being run over. It is noted that two suspects were identified at the time. Unmentioned is the fact that both were known GOONs. Neither was prosecuted because the FBI abandoned its investigation before “sufficient evidence of criminal conduct” could be developed.
The available evidence in the Spider case is more suggestive of blunt trauma injury to the head caused by a club than by a car. Again, a known GOON was identified, but the FBI’s investigation closed at a point when there was still “insufficient evidence to charge a person with the death.” The White Plume case follows much the same pattern.
This is also classified as a hit and run, albeit one in a conviction of sorts resulted. No charges were brought against the driver, a known GOON, ostensibly because “although he left the scene of an accident, his actions were not a violation of federal law.” His passenger, a woman named Arlene Good Voice whom even the FBI acknowledges as having deliberately caused the fatality, was allowed to enter a plea to charges which resulted in a sentence of 18 months probation.
The report states that Clearwater “was shot at a road block at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in April 1973 which started when Federal agents were fired on.” Actually, the victim was sleeping in the church adjoining the Wounded Knee gravesite – a considerable distance from any roadblock – when he was struck in the head by a heavy machine gun round fired from the federal perimeter.
Journalists inside Wounded Knee at the time unanimously agree that federal agents initiated the firefight. No mention is made of a considerable delay in the victim’s emergency medical evacuation precipitated by federal authorities, or that this was a contributing factor in his death nine days later. The slowness of Clearwater’s evacuation should be contrasted to that provided FBI agent Curtis Fitzpatrick when he was slightly wounded in the wrist a few weeks earlier.
It is noted, rather defensively, that “the facts of the matter, along with the autopsy report, were reviewed by the U.S. Attorney. No charges were filed.” This is in response to the allegation that, after Lamont was hit by federal gunfire at Wounded Knee, he bled to death while FBI snipers prevented AIM medics from reaching him and administering first aid. Unmentioned is the fact that several medics, all clearly identified by red cross armbands, were actually hit by federal gunfire during the course of the 71 day siege. In fact, there is at least one case – that of medic Ron Rosen – in which it appears the armband itself was used as an aiming point by a sniper.
The BIA police story, accepted in the FBI’s “accounting” with further ado, is that Bissonette was “killed by a single shotgun blast to the chest” when he “advanced on police officers with a raised 30.06 (rifle)”. Omitted are the facts that the weapon supposedly used by Bissonette was never produced by the police, or that Joe Clifford, the officer who fired the fatal round, moonlighted as a GOON. Nor is it noted that the shotgun pellets all struck the victim within a five inch radius, meaning that Clifford had discharged his weapon at a range of three feet or less (this renders the officer’s depiction of Bissonette advancing with a raised rifle at the time he was shot utterly implausible). Finally, it is not mentioned that it took the BIA police nearly 45 minutes to summon an ambulance from the nearby Pine Ridge IHS hospital, and that the victim bled to death in the interim.
Joe Stuntz Killsright
The report states that Killsright was killed during the FBI’s RESMURS investigation. He was in fact killed during the June 26, 1975, firefight which also resulted in the deaths of FBI agents Williams and Coler and thereby precipitated RESMURS. Cause of death is indicated as being a single long rang gunshot to the head, fired by either an FBI or BIA police sniper.
The fact that two eyewitnesses – journalist Kevin McKiernan and South Dakota Attorney General William Delaney – state that the victim’s torso had been riddled by an automatic weapon fired at close range is unmentioned. This is perhaps because of the implication that Killsright might have been summarily executed by an FBI agent enraged over the deaths of his colleagues. Be that as it may, the Bureau relies upon yet another autopsy performed by W.O. Brown to “confirm” its version of Killsright’s death.
Since the murder occurred in the town of Scenic, about 20 miles north of the Pine Ridge boundary, it is claimed that “the FBI had no investigative jurisdiction in the matter.” While this is true in principle, the fact is that the Bureau not only investigated but provided key witnesses employed by state prosecutors in obtaining a First Degree Murder conviction and sentence of life imprisonment against AIM member Richard Marshall.
Correspondingly, it is left unmentioned that the witness was Myrtle Poor Bear, the same psychologically unbalanced woman from whom agents David Price and William Wood collected three false and mutually contradictory affidavits purporting to incriminate Leonard Peltier in the deaths of agents Coler and Williams, and that one of these affidavits was then used to obtain the fraudulent extradition of Peltier from Canada.
Finally, nothing is said about the fact that Poor Bear subsequently recanted her testimony against both Marshall and Peltier, claiming it had been coerced by agents Price and Wood (who admittedly held her incommunicado and against her will in a Nebraska motel room for more than a month). As in the Aquash case, there is no indication agents Price and Wood have been so much as questioned with respect to the distinct possibility they suborned perjury and otherwise obstructed justice in all three of these murder investigations.
An extremely garbled and incomplete recounting of the aftermath of this grisly and clearly preplanned atrocity is set forth. It is true, as the report states, that GOON commanders/prime culprits Manny Wilson and Chuck Richards were acquitted of charges brought against them (mainly because of incredibly sloppy evidentiary work by the FBI). The allegation is also true, although implicitly denied in the report, that the First Degree Murder charges against the pair were dropped altogether. That only a single adult GOON, Charlie Winters, was ultimately convicted in this case, and then merely of having been an “Accessory After the Fact” in a “Second Degree” murder, tends to speak for itself.
That the sole conviction as an actual perpetrator was that of a 17-year-old “juvenile” – who under terms of the Federal Youth Corrections Act could be sentenced to no more than five years imprisonment – is at once laughable and contemptible, smacking as it does of a sop to public outrage which might ensue should too sensational a crime be left entirely unpunished. No matter how you slice it, the bottom line is that of more than a dozen GOONs identified by witnesses as participating in the DeSersa murder, two ended up serving less than six years between them.
Phillip Little Crow
The Bureau concurs that Little Crow was beaten to death by a GOON named Irby Hand, but points out that Hand was resultantly sent to prison. Although it is noted that Hand’s sentence was a mere five years – he served only three – no mention is made of the fact that this meager punishment accrued from an arrangement wherein federal authorities allowed the murderer to plead guilty to a charge of Voluntary Manslaughter. Also omitted is the fact that several other members of the GOON Squad identified by witnesses as having participated in the beating were not charged at all.
Leon L. Swift Bird
The report recounts that the victim was stabbed to death by Dorothy Iris Poor Bear, who then entered a guilty plea to a charge of Voluntary Manslaughter. Since Poor Bear, who was sentenced to only three years, and since even that paltry sentence was suspended, there is a clear appearance of a deal having been worked out among federal authorities allowing her to take a painless “fall” for the person(s) who actually did the killing. This appearance is reinforced by the fact that a 1987 inquiry made with the FBI’s Rapid City Resident Agency produced the response that no information on the case could be provided, since it was the subject of an “ongoing” investigation.
The report acknowledges that AIM member Cortier died of “numerous bullet wounds” inflicted by GOON Squad member Jerry Bear Shield (whom, it is suggested, “may” have been shot in the neck by Cortier during an exchange of gunfire). Any FBI investigation would have been strictly pro forma since Bear Shield quickly entered into a plea bargain arrangement resulting in a sentence of one year on a charge of Voluntary Manslaughter. He ultimately served less than nine months.
Leah Spotted Elk
A similar appearance is presented in this case. The alleged perpetrator, Kenneth Returns From Scout, was allowed to plead to reduced charges that resulted in his serving less than two years.
Carl Plenty Arrows, Sr., and Frank La Pointe
Both men were shot to death by a GOON named Glen Janis, who was identified as the killer by several witnesses and admitted killing Plenty Arrows, an AIM member. Janis initially declined, however, to acknowledge that he’d also shot La Pointe, who was himself associated with the GOON Squad (a matter suggesting La Pointe was killed by accident or mistake). Although the murder of Plenty Arrows was plainly in cold blood, federal authorities worked out an arrangement in which Janis was allowed to plead guilty to one count each of Second Degree Murder and Voluntary Manslaughter. His sentences were set to run concurrently (rather than consecutively, like the double-life term meted out to Leonard Peltier). He therefore faced a maximum of 20 years in prison and served a little over 11. Perhaps because of the ineptitude he displayed in killing another GOON in the process, Janis suffered by far the harshest punishment of anyone ever convicted of murdering an AIM member or supporter. The investigative work on this case was, however, handled mainly by the BIA police rather than the FBI.
It is observed that the assailant in this case, Roger James Cline, was convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Omitted is the fact that the arrest, prosecution, and conviction resulted from actions undertaken by the BIA police rather than the FBI. Nor is mention made of the fact that no investigation at all seems to have been conducted with respect to the possible culpability of several associates of Cline, all known members of the GOON Squad, who were present when the crime was committed. Finally, the appropriate charge in a killing of such barbarity – witnesses said Horse was not only shot but run over several times with a car – would be First Degree Murder rather than manslaughter.
The report confirms that the victim was beaten to death with a tire iron by occasional GOON Squad member Antoine Bluebird. It is observed that Bluebird was convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter and sentenced to serve seven years in prison. No indication is given as to how much time he actually served, or that his arrest and attendant investigation were carried out by the BIA police rather than the FBI.
Ben Sitting Up
The FBI report confirms that Sitting Up was murdered by “an individual using an axe.” It goes on to explain that “a suspect was identified but was not prosecuted because of impairment caused by a mental condition.” Aside from begging the obvious question of why the individual was not prosecuted for purposes of ensuring his commitment to an institution for the criminally insane, the response neglects to mention that he was notorious as an especially violent member of a GOON group known as the “Manson Family.” In his interview with McKiernan and DuBois, former GOON commander Duane Brewer recalls the same man as a “freak” who was eventually “fired” from the GOON Squad after he set out to cut an intended victim in half with a crosscut saw.
The report acknowledges that this case devolves upon a BIA police rather than FBI investigation. It is noted that witnesses identified four known members of the GOON Squad – Tom Eagle Chief, Cecil Bear Robe, Fred Marrowbone and an unnamed juvenile – as having collectively stomped and beaten Little to death. The quartet was, however, charged with Voluntary Manslaughter rather than murder. Eagle Chief, Marrowbone and the juvenile were convicted and sentenced to a mere six years, six years and four years respectively. Only the juvenile served his full term.
Janice Black Bear
In this case, which like that of James Little is acknowledged as having developed upon a BIA police rather than FBI investigation, a GOON named George Twiss confessed to having beaten the victim to death. An arrangement was quickly worked out by federal authorities in which Twiss was allowed to plead guilty to a charge of Involuntary Manslaughter. He was sentenced to three years and served about one-half of a year.
The report again concedes that this case devolves upon a BIA police rather than FBI investigation. Although the killer, a GOON named Glenn Three Stars, admitted shooting the victim to death at close range, he claimed self-defense and was charged only with Voluntary Manslaughter. Poor evidentiary work by BIA investigators, apparently unassisted by the FBI, resulted in his acquittal.
Howard Blue Bird
This is yet another case conceded to have developed upon a BIA police rather than FBI investigation. Although the killer, LeRoy Apple, readily admitted stabbing Blue Bird to death, he was allowed to enter into a plea bargain on a charge of Assault with a Deadly Weapon resulting in a sentence of just one year in prison. He served approximately nine months.
Jackson Washington Cutt
The report indicates that this case involved a combination of BIA police and FBI investigations. The police took information from an eyewitness identifying a known member of the GOON Squad as having re-interviewed the witness and took a statement from the GOON denying culpability. At this point, it is observed that an “Assistant U.S. Attorney [shortly] advised that a motion and order to dismiss” the charges would be entered in federal court. Unmentioned is the fact that the Bureau recommended such action be taken. Since the murder remains unresolved for this reason, it is still classified as the subject of an “ongoing” FBI investigation.
Marvin Two Two
This one is truly bizarre. The report informs us that the victim’s real name was David Martin Two Two and that his death was 05/06/76. It then goes on to announce that “a review of death certificates in all surrounding counties in South Dakota and Nebraska reflect no record of his death.”
Meaning what? That Two Two didn’t die? That he did, but the only thing officially recorded was the date? We are given to understand that “the FBI would have addressed this case if Two Two had been murdered on Pine Ridge.” While this sounds reassuring, simple logic dictates that since the Bureau professes to know only when the man died, not how, it can’t possibly be in a position to know whether he was murdered or not. The other AIM fatalities categorized as “non-murders” in Accounting for Native American Deaths might be usefully viewed through the Bureau’s response in this case.
The report fails to contradict the allegation. It does, however, neglect to mention that the agents inexplicably focused their investigative attention on AIM as the probable culprit, or that, in his interview with McKiernan and DuBois, GOON commander Duane Brewer candidly admitted that his men had killed Bissonette “by mistake.” There being no statute of limitations on murder, this raises the question of why the FBI has not reopened its investigation in this case.
James Brings Yellow
The report does not really address the allegation, which makes no claim that the victim died instantaneously. The elderly Brings Yellow suffered a heart attack when agents kicked in his door while conducting a warrantless no-knock assault upon his home during the early stages of the RESMURS investigation. That he died of related causes a day later in the hospital is irrelevant.
Since the report confirms the allegation, no further comment seems necessary.
Allison Fast Horse
Since the report confirms the allegation, no further comment seems necessary.
Corrections to the Record
In any endeavor of the sort undertaken by Vander Wall and me in compiling our list of victims/allegations, there is bound to be a margin of error (witness the mistakes made by the FBI concerning the month in which Anna Mae Aquash’s body was discovered and the investigative framework in which Joe Stuntz Killsright was shot to death). I am therefore pleased to be able to make the following corrections to our record based upon information provided in Accounting for Native American Deaths.
Sam Afraid of Bear
Vander Wall and I erroneously recorded Afraid of Bear’s death as having resulted from a gunshot wound. The FBI report indicates he was instead beaten to death. It also notes that an individual named Rudolph Running Shield was subsequently allowed to plead guilty to the murder in exchange for a reduction in charges and sentence. A second man, Luke Black Elk, Jr., was convicted of Second Degree Murder in February 1978. It is thus implied that both the guilty plea and the conviction resulted from an FBI investigation. To all appearances, however, the FBI added nothing to a BIA police investigation resulting in the arrests of both perpetrators.
Edward Standing Soldier
The report points out that Standing Soldier was killed not by “party or parties unknown,” as Vander Wall and I erroneously stated, but by a GOON named Gerald Janis. It then proceeds to accept at face value an improbable tale about how the victim was killed while engaged in an armed robbery of the killer’s home. When this “evidence” was presented to a grand jury, the report concludes, “a no bill was returned resulting in no prosecution and the FBI investigation closed.” To all appearances, the “investigation” was more of an orchestration of the murderer’s exoneration.
Vander Wall and I erroneously recorded the victim’s first name as “Kevin.” The report also observes that Hill was murdered not by “party or parties unknown,” as we wrongly stated, but by four individuals who stabbed him 19 times. It does not mention that the killers were known GOONs. It does observe, however, that, of the four, only one “17-year old Indian youth” was prosecuted and then only for Murder in the Second Degree.
Julius Bad Heart Bull
Vander Wall and I erred when we attributed Bad Heart Bull’s murder to “party or parties unknown.” The FBI report corrects the record by pointing out that he was beaten to death by a GOON named Bartholomew Joseph Long, using a 2×4 studded with nails. It is noted that Long was subsequently convicted of Second rather than First Degree Murder and sentenced to a mere ten years. No indication is given as to how long he actually served. Whether the investigation was conducted by the FBI or the BIA police is not stated.
Vander Wall and I again wrongly attributed the murder to “party or parties unknown.” In actuality, according to the report, witnesses identified the man who shot Hunter as a GOON named Vern Top Bear. Top Bear was charged with Second rather than First Degree Murder and eventually acquitted. No mention is made of a botched evidentiary submission by the FBI as contributing to this result.
Sandra Wounded Foot
The report points out that Wounded Foot was not killed by “unknown assailants,” as Vander Wall and I recorded. She was in fact shot in the head, execution style, and dumped in a remote section of the reservation by a BIA police investigator named Paul Duane Herman, Jr. Rather than being prosecuted for the murder, Herman was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of Voluntary Manslaughter and sentenced to just 10 years in prison. No mention is made of how long he actually served.
Vander Wall and I erroneously listed Michelle Tobacco as an “AIM supporter.” In actuality, she was the nine-month-old daughter of an AIM supporter. The report indicates that she was killed when “a relative [who] had consumed liquor, tripped and fell with the baby. When the relative awoke, Michelle was dead.” The misimpression created is that the relative was drunk, passed out, and crushed or smothered the baby. Omitted are the facts that the relative was not intoxicated, that she fell when startled by a bullet being fired through her window from outside her home (presumably by GOONs), and that in the process she struck her head on a coffee table and knocked herself out. Under the circumstances, it is small wonder the federal prosecutor declined to press charges.
Vander Wall and I erred in describing the victim as an “AIM supporter” and that she was killed by “person or persons unknown.” She was in fact beaten to death by her husband, Norman, a reputed GOON. Receiving the usual preferential treatment accorded those of service to the FBI, the murderer was allowed to enter a guilty plea on a charge of Voluntary Manslaughter and sentenced to only eight years. He served a little over five.
Floyd S. Bianis and Yvette Loraine Lone Hill
In this case, which turns out to have been a double homicide, it seems Vander Wall and I were simply wrong. Both the deceased were children, apparent victims of child abuse, and our contention that there was an AIM/GOON connection was erroneous. An appropriate FBI investigation did by all accounts take place and resulted in the successful prosecution of the perpetrator. Moreover, both the charges and sentences handed down seem quite appropriate. The Bureau’s exemplary performance in this obviously non-political case can, however, be usefully contrasted to its handling of every other murder discussed herein.
Inexplicably, a Pine Ridge murder case listed by Vander Wall and I, that of Lorinda Red Paint, is not addressed in Accounting for Native American Deaths. On the other hand, that of John S. Moore, a 1974 AIM casualty whom we didn’t include because he was killed in Lincoln, Nebraska, is discussed in the report. While this serves quite well to punctuate the point that there were many other fatalities attending the FBI’s repression of AIM than those Jim and I recorded, it is important to remember that the murders are themselves only part of the broader picture of what was done to the American Indian Movement and grassroots population of Pine Ridge during the mid-70’s.
There were, for example, nearly 350 non-lethal but nonetheless serious physical assaults against AIM members and supporters on the reservation recorded by WKLDOC during the same period. In nearly every instance, the assailants were identified by the victims &/or other witnesses as members of the GOON Squad. Yet in only a handful of instances did these crimes, all of which were subject to the FBI’s jurisdictional authority, result in any sort of prosecution. In most cases, the FBI conducted no investigation at all.
Had he been asked at the time, Rapid City ASAC George O’Clock would undoubtedly have claimed that since his office was already too shorthanded to investigate the wave murders on Pine Ridge, he obviously couldn’t spare the manpower to investigate the physical assaults. O’Clock’s agents, however, had time available to amass more than 342,000 separate investigative file classifications on the victims concerning such weighty matters as “Interference with Postal Inspectors in Performance of their Lawful Duties” and the alleged theft of a pair of used cowboy boots (not one, but two agents were actually assigned to this last).
While the relatively few investigations of the myriad major crimes committed by the GOON Squad were routinely abandoned because of “insufficient evidence,” or resulted in plea bargains and ridiculously light sentences, those opened in AIM cases were pursued with a vengeance and typically “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” More than 540 charges were filed against AIM members and supporters as a result of the 1973 confrontation at Wounded Knee alone. These resulted in a grand total of 15 convictions, all on minor charges. In many instances, it turned out that evidence supporting the charges was effectively non-existent.
Such a miniscule percentage of convictions resulting from prosecutions attempted might seem to add up to little more than an astonishingly inept performance on the part of the FBI’s vaunted investigators, by far the worst in the Bureau’s history. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this instance, charges were filed and prosecutions recommended although agents knew full well there was no possibility that “guilty” verdicts would be attained. The point – as was clearly articulated in 1974 by Col. Volney Warner, an army counterinsurgency specialist assigned as an advisor to the FBI’s Pine Ridge operation – was to destroy AIM by tying up its members in endless courtroom proceedings and ultimately bankrupting the Movement as it struggled to meet the spiraling costs of bail and legal defense. The strategy was designed, as Warner observed, so that “government wins, even if no one goes to jail.”
In this sense, the Bureau’s extralegal use of the judicial process was a resounding success. It also speaks volumes in explaining why so much of the massive violence directed against AIM went unpunished during the mid-70’s, and continues for all practical intents and purposes to remain uninvestigated to this day. Nothing in Accounting for Native American Deaths alters this harsh reality. Quite the opposite. By releasing this purposefully misleading report, the FBI has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that it has changed little if at all over the past 25 years. The attitudes, ethics and sensibilities exhibited by Douglas Domin and his colleagues in preparing their “report” are indistinguishable from those guiding the agents who operated on Pine Ridge a generation ago.
The premise that this constitutes an eminent danger to the rights and liberties of all Americans is amply corroborated by numerous revelations of comparable FBI misconduct in recent years. Whether it is exposure by its own forensic specialists of the fact that the Bureau’s crime lab has systematically fabricated physical evidence for purposes of obtaining the convictions of thousands of possibly innocent people, the release from 27 years imprisonment of former Black Panther Geronimo ji Jaga after a judicial finding that he’d been the victim of a frame-up in which the FBI was plainly complicit, the Bureau’s withholding of vital evidence from even the Attorney General in the course of its self exoneration concerning the 1993 Waco bloodbath, or any of a dozen other examples, the pattern remains consistent.
The FBI is, as it has always been, an agency antithetical to the democratic ideals of the United States. Subverting law in pursuit of order, it continues today, as it has since its inception, to employ the vast resources at its disposal in destroying those whose viewpoints and activities it deems politically objectionable, and then to hide the truth of what it has done from the public it supposedly serves. Should we as citizens prove ourselves willing to accept the latter subterfuge, and thereby allow the former practice to continue, we will no longer need to concern ourselves with worries about whether America is becoming a police state. Instead, we will be compelled to confront the terrifying fact that it already has.
© 2000 Ward Churchill, Reprinted With Permission