‘Just break the silence’
Thu, 09/14/2017 - 5:00am admin
Protesters gather in Crow Agency seeking updates on recent deaths
By Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
An estimated 50 people gathered last Thursday afternoon for a peaceful protest outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs office and Crow Tribal Court in Crow Agency, searching for updates regarding the deaths of family and friends.
“We’re here in front of the courthouse and police station because we want them to know these families are still here,” said Lodge Grass resident BethYana Pease, who organized the event. “They’re still fighting for justice, they’re still seeking answers. It doesn’t even have to be an answer, just break the silence.”
People carried signs during the protest showing the names of those who died in an Aug. 4 triple shooting in Lodge Grass: Leslie “Frank” Nomee Jr., Denise Stewart Nomee and Nehemiah “Rocko” Brokenrope. A sign also showed the name and picture of Bonnie Three Irons, whose body was found April 14 in the Wolf Mountains outside Lodge Grass.
More signs simply directed law enforcement to find justice for “Mom,” “Dad” or both.
Frank and Denise – married in 2009 – were the parents of three children, one of whom was an adopted nephew. In addition, Brokenrope was the father of five and Three Irons was the mother of six. No suspects have been identified in either case.
Vianna Stewart, Denise’s mother, said it “feels like life doesn’t matter anymore.” People will continue to live their lives and find new opportunities, she continued, “but these kids will never move on.”
“The last day, when [Denise] came to see me, the little one had her arms wrapped around her leg,” Vianna said. “That’s how it is, that’s how it always is; the little one always has her arms wrapped around her leg.
“She’ll never have that again and it just seems so wrong.”
Jennifer White Bear, mother of Three Irons, arrived to protest because she believes “the police aren’t doing anything” to find out what happened to her daughter. Three Irons’ cause of death was determined to be hypothermia, but White Bear said other factors may have played a part.
“Some of my brothers saw how she was when they found her,” White Bear said. “It looked like somebody had dragged her down there.”
The FBI, according to White Bear, plan to close her daughter’s case soon with no one charged.
Travis Burrows, FBI Senior Supervisory Resident Agent in Billings, stated in an email that no updates are available on the cases at this time.
According to Pease, a person “directly connected” to the triple homicide is back in Lodge Grass and “threatening elders – saying people took her money, saying people owe her money.”
Crow Tribal Prosecutor Robert LaFountain, speaking to the protestors, acknowledged the “fear and threats” surrounding this person, and added there was a “warrant for her arrest on a different case.” He is contracted by the Crow Executive Branch and not a member of the police, he added, so he cannot make the arrest himself.
LaFountain said he has arrest warrants on his desk regarding domestic violence and criminal possession, but none for homicide. Every week, he continued, he deals with between 30-60 complaints.
Outside of emergency situations, he said, “calling the cops doesn’t do any good.” Those who witness public intoxication or other non-emergency crimes, he explained, need to enter the BIA office and write out a statement. Officers are then bound by law to investigate alleged crimes.
“If there is a homicide involved, that will be investigated,” he said. “If [a witness] comes to my office, I will sit down with that person, I will make my notes, then I need to go to investigators because I am not an investigator.”
Lodge Grass is located more than 20 miles south of Crow Agency, the Crow Reservation seat. As a result, Sen. Tyson Gros Ventre of the Lodge Grass District said, law enforcement often takes 40-45 minutes to respond to a call. He and other legislators are pushing for them to have more of a presence through letters and conversations.
“I try to have them be proactive, rather than reactive,” he said. “The only time we see them is when they’re coming from the Crow Agency area with their lights on.”
An Aug. 7 media release from the Crow Legislative Branch addressing the triple homicide added that “only three” of nine BIA officers are available at any point to cover the reservation’s 2.2 million acres and six districts.
According to the release, “force numbers never recovered” from October 2013, when nine BIA officers left Crow Agency. To properly cover the Crow Reservation, the release continues, requires a minimum of 20 officers.
“If I were in your shoes, out there in Lodge Grass or Wyola, with very few officers around, I might not feel very safe,” LaFountain told the protesters. “There are failures in this system, just like there are in any system. If you’re addressing them, that’s all good.”
Jared Stewart, media liaison for the Crow Tribe, said the Executive Branch now is focused on increasing communication with law enforcement and adjusting the budget to fund more officers. Bringing down the local crime rate is possible, he said, but it won’t be a quick fix.
Like the others present at the protest, Stewart was personally affected by the deaths: Denise was one of his nieces.
“This problem took a long time to become this big,” he said. “This process is also going to take a while.”
A second protest was held from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday in Lodge Grass. A third protest is scheduled in front of the BIA District Office in Billings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14.