The ACLU of North Dakota with the law firm of Nichols Kaster, PLLP, today filed a complaint against the federal government on behalf of Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase, a White Shield, N.D., woman who was assaulted, humiliated and dehumanized by law enforcement officers with the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Standing Rock Detention Center in Fort Yates, N.D.
In February 2021, Yellow Bird-Chase was driving a client she had rescued from sex trafficking to a rehabilitation center when she was pulled over for speeding. BIA officers later took her to the Standing Rock Detention Center where they forced her to remove her clothes in the main booking area in front of several officers, robbed her of more than $800, stole her prescription medication, and subjected her to abuse, assault and inhumane conditions in an overcrowded, unsanitary jail cell without access to food for nearly 18 hours. Through these officers, the United States violated the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the federal government and seek monetary damages.
Yellow Bird-Chase’s experience highlights law enforcement’s racial profiling and abuse toward Indigenous women, compounding the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People in North and South Dakota. This case seeks to hold the United States accountable and draw awareness to the danger Indigenous women like Yellow Bird-Chase face in their daily lives.
“What happened to Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase is shameful and reprehensible,” said Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of North Dakota legal director. “The emotional and physical distress these officers inflicted upon Lissa is severe, traumatizing and could only be born out of a fundamental disregard for her humanity and abuse of power by law enforcement officers. Our government should not treat people this way.”
Yellow Bird-Chase is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. In 2013, she helped start Sahnish Scouts, an organization that helps search for missing and murdered Indigenous people. Since the organization’s founding, more than a hundred families have sought Yellow Bird-Chase’s support in cases where their loved ones are unaccounted for. Sahnish Scouts not only publicizes missing persons but also searches for them, assisting or filling in for law enforcement.
“I’m in awe of Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase’s determination to hold the government accountable, draw attention to the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and push for systemic change —all of which she is doing in the face of personal trauma no human should ever have to endure,” said Anna P. Prakash, counsel on this matter from the law firm Nichols Kaster.
Yellow Bird-Chase has seen all too often how abuse like this can play into the challenges Indigenous communities face.
“BIA officers here have a troubling history of abuse of power and they need to be held accountable,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. “When women are at their most vulnerable, they are completely at the mercy of these officers – and I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this misuse of their authority. We must speak up. This must change. People need to know that this is not OK.”
If you or anyone you know has been victimized by BIA officers, contact the ACLU at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The complaint was filed in federal court in the District of North Dakota Western Division by the ACLU of North Dakota and Minneapolis-based law firm Nichols Kaster, PLLP. A copy of the complaint is attached.