Feds Prosecuting More Indian Country Crime Cases

August 26, 2014
Laurel Morales
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider trains nurses and police officers at the Hopi hospital how to preserve evidence.

A U.S. Justice Department report released Tuesday shows over the last three years the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted a lot more Indian Nation cases than previous years.

With 22 tribes, Arizona had the highest number of cases compared to the rest of Indian Country.

In 2009 the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined half of Indian Country cases, according to a Government Accountability Study. In 2013 they turned down 34 percent of cases submitted for prosecution.

Flagstaff Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider said even if they have to decline them, they should be seeing more cases. He said his office needs to encourage victims to come forward to report crimes.

“I would love to see the number of cases submitted to us increase even if our declination rate goes up,” Schneider said. “That means we’re getting those cases reported to us, which means those victims are now coming forward. And even if we lag in our ability to get them investigated to the point where we can convict in every one of those cases, we will catch up and that’s when we’re really coming together as a community."

Schneider’s office has to decline so many cases because evidence critical to an investigation is often lost, not collected or not preserved properly. But that’s changing thanks to training sessions with hospital and police staff on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

Associate Attorney General Tony West spoke at a conference in Twin Arrows on Tuesday. He said collaboration between the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and tribes is improving.

“As more tribes step up to assume this new exercise of sovereignty, more tribal-federal partnerships will be established, more interdependence and collaboration that will occur on public safety matters as a result,” West said.

And he said more tribal capacity to protect the integrity, culture and safety of the tribe will be created. But West said with crime rates still high, there’s a lot of work to be done.