There are many unanswered questions surrounding the death of Jay Spotted Elk, who died by hanging on July 16, 2005. Jay is a member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe from Rosebud, South Dakota. He had just left friends and was walking to his girlfriends house. While walking, he was picked up by the police on an old speeding warrant, which would have resulted in no more than weekend in jail. How is it that within minutes of being in that jail cell, Jay was dead? It was almost too quick for suicide, especially for a bright and happy young man, well respected and liked by his peers of all races, who had just told his mother he was in love for the first time in his life.
When the police brought him in, he was in a cheerful mood. There had been no cause for the police to treat him in a violent manner; whatever happened to Jay appears solely to have been the result of the maliciousness of a racist police force.
Jay had spent his evening with friends in Rushville, Nebraska. He and his family were packed and ready to move back to South Dakota the very next morning. Although at this point, the autopsy report has not been reviewed by Spotted Elk’s family’s attorney, from the Abourezk and Zephier Law Firm of Rapid City, SD, reports from those who were with him refute that he had been drinking. However, Jay was placed in the “drunk tank,” a cell that is isolated from other inmates. As he entered, he greeted the inmates in a friendly fashion and for some reason, was put into the cell that is usually reserved for those who are creating major disturbances.
The police removed his earring, his bandana, and his shoes yet somehow neglected to take his belt and they placed him in the cell. Then, according to those who were at the jail, he was mistreated so badly he threatened suicide, which in itself seems strange. Whatever they did to him was out of view of others, but was loud enough for them to know he was being tormented. Supposedly, he was then left alone, and when the jailor returned approximately ten to fifteen minutes later, Jay was dead. The jailor alleges that Jay had only been alone for about twenty minutes and he began CPR. Why then did they reportedly wait 45 minutes to call an ambulance?
It would seem that the police have provided the public with a nice pat story that is distressingly belied by evidence and there is another possibility must be considered. Is it possible that once Jay threatened to kill himself, the police had an alibi to kill him? A woman who viewed the body in a professional context and has worked with people who had died by hanging, and particularly suicide, attests that this looked different, that Jay’s arms were badly bruised and scratched. When asked if it looked as if those bruises and scratches might have indicated that he struggled to get away, her reply was yes.
The police have so far refused to return Jay’s personal belongings to his mother and are still being held as evidence. But the only evidence his clothing could possibly show would be evidence against the police.
The scratches and bruises were not the extent of Jay’s suspicious wounds, and one in particular is the most disturbing of all. There was a demarcation on the side of Jay’s head, a dent, and his eye looked as if it had been crushed or caved in. But there was no bruise. When asked how this might be possible, one source stated that the only way this could have occurred was after he was already dead. It appears that they hit him hard in the head, even after he had already died.
No one has yet seen the contents of the autopsy report, it is still unknown what Jay’s blood alcohol content was. But if he had only had one beer why was he placed in the drunk tank isolated from view of the other in-mates? There are too many witnesses that agree his behavior was not belligerent. Why did they beat him to the point of suicide, if in fact that happened? Or was he killed by his captors for the color of his skin? These are certainly questions that need to be answered and these wrongdoers must be tried for their inhumane deeds before the eyes of the nation.
Rushville is a town that is known by the local Lakota Sioux tribes as a place that features racial profiling as a specialty and incidents of uninvestigated deaths of Indians in Nebraska border towns of the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations are not uncommon incidents. In fact, there is another lawsuit pending of the wrongful death of an Indian man which took place three years ago. So, it was quick thinking by that same police force to hold Grand Jury proceedings so quickly following Jay’s death, which prevented any further investigation.
At the Grand Jury proceedings, Arlie, Jay’s mother, sat outside on the steps and watched as members of the police community entered the courtroom. At this time, it appears that there were no witnesses called that may have offered adverse testimony to the police version, nor any witnesses called to speak on behalf of Jay, or as to the treatment he reportedly received at the hands of overzealous and seemingly malicious officials.
Did the law enforcement officials really believe or stand by their testimony that they had forgotten to take Jay's belt from him that night, and if that were indeed true, shouldn’t those same officials be held accountable for the violence that allegedly occurred at the jail?
The Grand Jury resulted in no criminal charges being filed against anyone. However, those proceedings are secret and not shared with the general public, and as of yet, the government has not agreed to open up the record of those proceedings even though the need to know all of the full extent of the information and evidence is needed in order to examine and determine the truth so that the family and heirs can know what happened to Jay, and why.
Are the authorities frightened of the fully disclosed truth? If there is nothing to fear, why is his clothing still being held as evidence? The authorities should be more than willing to allow the family and estate of Jay to have timely and complete access to those materials without obstruction, delay or alteration.
Often, in cases of police brutality, police take the defensive position of filing suits against the abused.
But, since no criminal charges are now pending against anyone, including Jay (since he has passed), the barrier to learning the truth should not be hidden behind some proposed shield that the authorities may be using to avoid turning over the information that they have, including information which was developed during the recent grand jury proceeding. The light of day must shine on this tragedy, so as not to perpetuate the pain, suffering and grief of the surviving family including his mother, and the Native American community.
Allowing the perception of secrecy without disclosure can seem more devious because of its ability to stifle the grieving family from seeking justice and the truth. It seems clear to all involved that the authorities will need to decide very soon whether or not to turn over all investigatory materials to the family voluntarily, or to stand on some perceived defensive position such as demanding an order from a court. Although no formal court action presently exists requesting such an order, it would seem almost backwards if such an order is demanded. In essence, the authorities would actually be asking to be sued by creating the need to obtain such an order, simply to obtain the investigation materials that would reveal part of the story that needs to be told. It doesn't seem to make sense.
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