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Patrick Springer, Published November 29 2012

Spirit Lake infant died from SIDS

FARGO – A 2-month-old girl whose July death was seized upon as an example of endangered children on the Spirit Lake reservation died of natural causes.

The cause of Debra Kay Anderson Dogskin’s July 7 death at her mother’s home in St. Michael was sudden infant death syndrome, Tim Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said Thursday.

The cause of death was determined by the North Dakota State Medical Examiner’s Office, and federal prosecutors decided not to file charges in connection with the death.

“We have determined that there is insufficient evidence that a federal criminal offense was committed,” Purdon said.

In the days immediately following the infant’s death, some at Spirit Lake, including relatives of the child, said they believed the death was preventable.

Relatives said they made repeated attempts to have the child removed from her mother’s home because they believe the child was being neglected.

The efforts went nowhere, however, because of jurisdictional disputes involving agencies on and off the reservation, said Patricia Anderson, a great aunt of the girl who died.

The Forum was unable to reach the mother, Rainy Anderson, for comment after her daughter’s death or on Thursday, when the results of the investigation were made public.

A sister, Jennifer Strouse, denied that Anderson neglected her children. After the death of Debra Kay, Anderson’s other two daughters, now 2 and 7 or 8 years old, were cared for by other family members, Patricia Anderson said.

However, social services officials on the reservation later returned the 2-year-old to the mother, she said.

The investigation, which included a medical examination, toxicology studies and “numerous, numerous interviews” by the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs, took almost five months because officials wanted to be sure their review was thorough, Purdon said.

Prosecutors met face-to-face with the medical examiner to be sure they understood its conclusions.

Although the cause of death was attributed to SIDS, the manner of death could not be determined, Purdon said.

“We evaluated this case for violations of any federal statutes,” including child abuse and neglect, as well as homicide and involuntary manslaughter, he said.

The FBI was heavily involved in the investigation, Purdon added.

“I really want to recognize the role of the FBI in this case,” he said.

All assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecute crimes on North Dakota reservations were consulted and a consensus was reached in deciding not to file charges, Purdon said.

“This investigation was taken very seriously and done by the book and there was a great deal of resources committed to it,” he said.

Patricia Anderson said she was satisfied that the investigation was thorough and does not dispute its findings, although she said she stands by her belief that the child was in jeopardy.

“I know those investigations take a long time,” she said.

American Indian infants are at much higher risk for SIDS than the general population. In North Dakota, the infant mortality rate from 2006 to 2010 was 15.8 percent, more than double the statewide rate of 6.3 percent, according to state figures.

The reasons for the higher incidence include a higher prevalence of babies born to teenage mothers, low-birth weight, premature birth and mothers who use drugs or alcohol, according to health experts and studies.

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