Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye appeared at a rally
for Loreal Tsingine in Winslow, Arizona, on April 2, 2016. Photo from Navajo
Nation OPVP / Facebook
Leaders of the Navajo Nation are welcoming a federal investigation into the shooting of one of their own by a non-Indian police officer.
Tribal leaders have been pushing for federal intervention ever since Loreal Juana Barnell Tsingine died on March 27 in Winslow, Arizona. The 27-year-old mother was shot and killed by officer Austin Shipley but state authorities last month cleared him of any wrongdoing, drawing further outrage about the treatment of Navajo citizens in a community near the reservation border.
Some of those concerns could now be addressed with the Department of Justice taking up the case. Tribal leaders remain hopeful that some of their questions will finally be answered.
"The Navajo Nation Council is elated that the United States Department of Justice has made the decision to review the investigation into the shooting death of Loreal Tsinigine at the hands of Officer Shipley,” Speaker LoRenzo Bates of the Navajo Nation Council
said in a press release. “While Maricopa County may allow Officer Shipley to escape criminal prosecution, we are hopeful that a federal investigation will bring justice for the Tsinigine family."
The development marks only the second time in history that a fatal police officer shooting of a Native person is being reviewed by the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. The first came after John
T. Williams, who was a First Nations citizen from Canada, was killed by a police
officer in Seattle, Washington, in 2010.
The division's July 2012 complaint noted that Williams, who was well known in the urban Indian and local community as a traditional woodcarver, was shot within "seven seconds" of being confronted by a police officer. Williams was carrying a knife he used to make his arts at the time and was hard of hearing, a condition that also was familiar to the people who knew him.
The Seattle Police Department's "failure to supervise an inexperienced officer on how to make appropriate decisions about when to use deadly force, how to appreciate cultural traditions of Native Americans, and how to determine when to call for supervisory assistance, led to this tragic death," the complaint, which led to a settlement, stated.
The Arizona Daily Star on YouTube: Winslow PD shooting of Loreal Tsingine
In comparison to Seattle, Winslow is a much smaller community. But Native Americans --
-- who represent 25.7 percent of the population in the city, according to the U.S.
Census Bureau -- have long complained about discrimination and mistreatment in a city less than 30 miles from the Navajo Nation border.
"My niece didn't deserve to be slammed to the ground by a man who is racist, shouldn't have been on the force, who had issues with the community," Shundeen Smith, an aunt of Tsingine, wrote on Facebook after learning that the Maricopa County would not be charging officer Shipley with any crimes.
According to county attorney Bill Montgomery, Shipley tried to arrest Tsingine but she swung at him with a pair of scissors. He said Tsingine ignored "multiple commands" to drop the item and "aggressively advanced on the officer" with the scissors in her hands.
The Arizona Daily Star obtained body camera footage of the moments leading up to the fatal shooting. Although the video appears to run at a fast speed -- the clip that is posted on YouTube lasts for just 35 seconds -- it looks like Shipley shot Tsingine shortly after confronting her. A second officer who was approaching Tsingine from behind did not appear to have the opportunity to subdue her before she was shot.
Native Americans are more likely to
be killed by law enforcement than any other racial or ethnic group. Image from
Center on Juvenile and