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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published December 02 2013

Man in custody in suspicious Belcourt death

BELCOURT, N.D. - A man is in custody in Belcourt in connection with a suspicious death here last week and has been charged in tribal court, according to federal officials.

While federal courts have jurisdiction over serious crimes in Indian country, tribal courts have jurisdiction over lesser crimes.

“It’s my understanding that tribal authorities lodged some charges in connection with the death,” said Timothy Purdon, U.S. Attorney for North Dakota. “We have an ongoing investigation as to whether there is a federal crime in this matter and we are working hard with our partners at the FBI and the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to fully investigate whether there was a federal crime committed.”

Last Wednesday, reports of two suspects being sought in a suspicious death in a Belcourt home resulted in hospitals and schools in the region, including in Rugby, 45 miles from Belcourt, to go into lockdown mode in the morning.

Grand Forks officials said their officers were on alert last Wednesday in the search.

Family members, friends and other sources in Belcourt identified the deceased man as Joel Sherman, 29, who has lived in Fargo — where he attended Fargo North High School — and Bismarck as well as Belcourt.

Law enforcement sources confirmed Sherman as the victim of the shooting.

FBI spokesman Kyle Loven confirmed Monday that charges had been filed, but referred other questions to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa prosecutor in Belcourt. Tribal court officials also referred questions to prosecutor Bill Marcellais, but he was in court and was not available.

Law enforcement officials said Wednesday that one of the two suspects turned himself in that day, but other officials said he was not in custody for involvement in the death. On Monday, a law enforcement source said the other suspect turned himself in on Saturday, and was later charged.

The circumstances of the victim’s deaths are also unclear, including whether it was due to a crime, law enforcement sources said.

Sherman had a lengthy criminal record in North Dakota, including convictions for drug-related felonies, assault and domestic abuse and served time in jail in North Dakota and Minnesota. According to his Facebook page and online news sources, he had a daughter born early this year.

His older brother, Michael, was killed in 2003 in a shoot-out with police in a drug bust in Bismarck.