Justice for Jason Pero. Graphic: Native Lives Matter
Law | National

Bad River Band demands federal investigation into fatal shooting of 14-year-old boy

Leaders of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are demanding a federal investigation after a police officer shot and killed a 14-year-old tribal citizen on the reservation.

The tribal council said federal intervention is needed because authorities in Wisconsin have already come to unwarranted conclusions about Jason Ike Pero. The eighth-grader was killed outside of his grandparent's home by a sheriff's deputy from Ashland County on November 8.

“This police brutality has to end, it’s an epidemic in our country and against all Native Americans,” Holly Gauthier, Jason's mother, said on Thursday.

“Now our family is counted among them. Many of these killings are unlawful and are not properly prosecuted,” Gauthier added. “Our laws about prosecuting unlawful police conduct need to change, and this has to end now.”

Barely three days after the shooting, which has attracted nationwide attention, the state Department of Justice issued a press release that appeared to place blame for Jason's death on the boy himself. It described him as a "5’9”, 300 pound male subject" who lunged toward deputy Brock Mrdjenovich with a knife.

"Deputy Mrdjenovich fired his service weapon at Pero, striking him twice," the press release stated.

The department also said Jason was the person who made the 911 call that led to the deadly incident and that he had been "despondent" in the days prior. But his mother said there was no excuse for Mrdjenovich's actions.

“Our family would like to thank everyone for their continued support as we mourn for my son Jason and we continue to demand justice,” Gauthier said. “There is no reason a police officer should ever shoot a child, and there is no reason that police should be shooting to kill.”

The state is planning to turn over the results of its inquiry to the prosecutor in Ashland County for possible action. But tribal leaders fear Mrdjenovich will be cleared of wrongdoing so they are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal civil rights and civil police misconduct investigation.

Native Americans are more likely to be killed by law enforcement than any other racial or ethnic group. Image from Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

The last time a similar investigation happened, no charges were filed against a police officer in Arizona who shot and killed Loreal Tsingine, who was a citizen of the Navajo Nation, in March 2016. Navajo officials are now considering further options after the Trump administration said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police officers than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Yet there has been little official attention to the issue, beyond the investigation of Tsingine's death and an earlier one in Seattle, Washington.

Jason's case is unique due to his young age and the fact that it occurred in Indian Country. Most of the recent fatal police shootings of Native Americans have taken place in cities, like the death of Zachary Bearheels, a 29-year-old citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who was killed in Omaha, Nebraska, this year, and that of Paul Castaway, a 35-year-old citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who was killed in Denver, Colorado, in 2015.

Some incidents, like that of Chistopher Capps, a 22-year-old Oglala Sioux citizen who was killed in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 2010, occurred in communities near reservation borders or in places with significant Native populations. Tsingine, who was a 29-year-old mother, was killed in a border city where fellow Navajos often complain of discriminatory treatment.

Despite the frequency of the shootings, accountability remains elusive for most Native victims and their families, as the police officers who have been involved are almost always cleared of wrongdoing. The major exception is Bearheels -- two officers in Omaha have been charged with assault for his death in June.

In the case of Capps, his parents won a federal appeals court decision that allows them to sue the officer who shot and killed their son. The officer, however, was cleared by the state of South Dakota.

Jason Ike Pero, who also had relatives from the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, loved to play video games and enjoyed drumming and singing, according to his obituary. He died just two months after his 14th birthday.

Related Stories:
Gyasi Ross: Native child gunned down by police officer on his own homelands (November 17, 2017)
Bad River Band seeks answers after police officer shoots and kills 14-year-old boy (November 10, 2017)
Bad River Band 'deeply saddened and troubled' by shooting of boy by police officer (November 9, 2017)