Patrick Springer, Published October 30 2012
Whistleblower calls federal response ‘window dressing’FARGO – A federal official who has repeatedly reported allegations of child abuse at Spirit Lake Nation wrote Tuesday to complain that investigators have failed to take action to protect victims from ongoing abuse.
Thomas Sullivan, a regional human services administrator based in Denver, sent an email to officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Justice Department with a list of scathing criticisms of “window dressing” and failure to act.
He described a “continuing epidemic of child sexual abuse” at Spirit Lake and what he regards as a “failure of moral leadership in North Dakota and in the American Indian community.”
Sullivan first wrote to the BIA and federal law enforcement officials in June to report allegations of child abuse he had learned of, and wrote five subsequent reports, including Tuesday’s report.
Much of Sullivan’s latest report was devoted to revisiting his prior allegations and asking what, if anything, has been done to investigate or protect the children.
“The BIA at all levels has proven itself to be compromised and ineffective,” he wrote, adding that a regional administrator was provided with evidence of apparent malfeasance several years ago.
The documents, according to Sullivan’s unnamed sources, later were sent to the BIA superintendent at Spirit Lake for his review and remained unopened on his desk until they were later shredded.
A BIA spokeswoman was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon. Sullivan has declined to be interviewed.
Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said federal investigators have taken Sullivan’s allegations seriously.
“I’ve been briefed by the BIA on the investigation of these allegations,” Purdon said. “I’m satisfied that the BIA is taking these allegations seriously and trying to follow up the limited information that’s available.”
Otherwise, Purdon declined to comment on Sullivan’s allegations, and would not comment on his assessment of their credibility.
Most disturbing, Sullivan said children who had been raped by known sexual predators have been allowed to remain in their homes.
The BIA took over management of the Spirit Lake Tribe’s social services programs following allegations by Sullivan and Dr. Michael Tilus, a clinical psychologist who once headed behavioral health at the Indian Health Service clinic in Fort Totten.
Sullivan expressed deep frustration about what he believes is an inadequate response to his reports of serious child abuse. He said he did what he could to “expedite the efforts” of officials.
“Unfortunately, it appears that my efforts have been in vain,” Sullivan wrote. “Neither I nor my sources have seen any change at Spirit Lake affecting the lives of those children who were placed many months ago in homes on the Reservation in the care of registered and unregistered but known sexual offenders. Those children remain in the same placements.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522