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Patrick Springer, Published September 04 2012

Offer allows Spirit Lake prosecutor to take cases federal

FARGO – Federal prosecutors have offered to make the Spirit Lake Tribe’s prosecutor a special U.S. attorney and to help the tribe develop a strategic plan to protect children from violence.

The offer to enable the tribe’s prosecutor to take certain cases to federal court, first broached a year ago, is similar to an agreement recently struck with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The proposal for a deeper partnership between federal prosecutors is part of a broader offer of support for the Spirit Lake Tribe from Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota. The tribe has struggled in recent months to solve deficiencies in its social services and protection for endangered children.

Purdon presented the proposal to Spirit Lake Tribe officials Aug. 21, and followed up two days later with a letter summarizing his offer in writing.

“They seemed very supportive in the meeting,” Purdon said of the reaction from tribal officials. However, he said, a formal agreement would be required to make the tribe’s prosecutor a special assistant U.S. attorney.

The contract would have to be approved by the tribal council, and Purdon still had not heard as of Tuesday whether action has been taken.

Messages sent Tuesday to Marty Alex, the tribe’s administrator, and Joe Vetsch, the tribe’s prosecutor, were not returned Tuesday. Roger Yankton, the tribe’s chairman, could not be reached Tuesday.

Besides allowing the tribe to take more serious cases into U.S. District Court for prosecution, the tribe’s prosecutor would be eligible to U.S. Department of Justice training, at no cost to the tribe.

The agreement with Standing Rock included a grant that allowed the tribe to hire a special prosecutor for cases involving violence against women.

In another example of a federal partnership with an area tribe, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe has signed an agreement to team up with federal prosecutors.

The arrangement, made possible by a law passed in 2010, is available to tribes with crime rates more than double the national average. White Earth’s agreement means more federal assistance and will allow stiffer sentences for the most flagrant crimes.

In the case of Spirit Lake, Purdon has offered to revive regularly meetings of a multi-disciplinary team to coordinate victim and witness issues involving federal cases.

The U.S. attorney’s office in North Dakota also has offered to host a training seminar this fall with tribal law enforcement officials, social services personnel and others on topics including mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect.

Two federal officials have accused tribal social services officials of ignoring many reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has sent a “strike team” to help the tribe correct deficiencies.

US attorneys to discuss Native justice issues

BISMARCK – U.S. attorneys from 15 states in Indian Country will meet here Thursday to discuss Native American justice issues.

The meeting, which will coincide with the United Tribes Technical College’s tribal leaders summit, is part of a Department of Justice initiative involving both criminal and civil justice on Indian reservations.

U.S. attorneys, including Timothy Purdon of North Dakota and Brendan Johnson of South Dakota, will discuss their efforts and invite feedback from tribal leaders.

“We’re going to hear what they have to say,” Purdon said. “It’s a consultation.”

Also, high-level justice officials will attend the conference.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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