It’s been a little more than a year since Loreal Tsingine was killed by Winslow Police in Arizona. Officer Austin Shipley shot the 27-year-old Navajo mother five times in the torso. According to reports, Shipley had responded to a shoplifting call at a local Circle K and, later, said he shot Tsingine because she attempted to attack him with a pair scissors. Police reports indicate they were a pair of bandage scissors.
In the past year, Tsingine’s family and the community have demanded an investigation into the Winslow Police Departments’ conduct in the killing of Tsingine, more specifically Shipley’s use of excessive force. An investigation was conducted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, and in July 2016, County Attorney Bill Montgomery founded that no criminal charges were to be filed against Shipley after what he called a “careful review.”
An internal affairs investigation was also conducted by Mesa Police Department. The results were sent to Winslow Police and that same month Shipley resigned after spending six months on paid leave, according to police documents. Shipley was not prosecuted nor did he receive any known penalties or reprimands for the shooting death of Tsingine.
Tsingine’s family and community members have demanded the prosecution of Shipley and, now, a year later, this has not happened. Last summer, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division declared to complete an investigation into Tsingine’s murder after being urged by the Navajo Nation for a review. So far, the family has not heard anything about this investigation. On the anniversary of Tsingine’s murder last month, I called the Department of Justice, sent an email, and I have yet to receive a response.
Tsingine’s family has sought answers from the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Human Rights Commission, both who’ve sworn to seek justice for Tsingine, but they’re still waiting for answers.
RELATED: Houska: Answering a Police Brutality Survey While Native (APBSWN)
“Austin Shipley must be held accountable,” Floranda Dempsey, Tsingine’s aunt, told Indian Country Media Network. “We want the Winslow PD to be held accountable. There are lies being told about her killing and those need to be told. We want him prosecuted. Austin Shipley should’ve never been hired as a police officer. It is difficult to move past a tragic loss. Loreal was not only a relative, but a mother.”
Dempsey said because of niece’s murder, the family is not able to conduct the traditional Diné (Navajo) ceremonies which typically take place after the death of a loved one. It’s custom to hold a series of ceremonies for the grieving process, and once those ceremonies are held, then the grieving process may end. But Dempsey and her family can’t do this because they are waiting for answers and justice for Tsingine. On the twenty-seventh day of each month the family gathers to hold a vigil for Tsingine at the place she was murdered.
Since Shipley resigned from the Winslow Police Department, the results of the internal investigations were released as well as the release of the live body cam which showed the events that occurred seconds prior to Tsingine’s killing. Concerns about Shipley’s conduct as a police officer and his behaviors when he killed Tsingine were have been voiced.
Shipley reports he never met Tsingine but the investigation conducted by Mesa Police show that he had several encounters with her at least two years prior to her death. One report I obtained in particular states Shipley responded to a call that Tsingine was possibly sexually assaulted. When Shipley was questioned, he stated he did not know who she was.
Shipley was also found to hold unqualified firearms in his patrol car the day he shot Tsingine. He reported in the investigation that his supervisor, Sergeant Toliver, approved his carrying those weapons, but supervisor Sergeant Cano did not seem to recall this, according to reports.
Another concerning aspect of the investigation was the variety of witnesses that were interviewed. Some witnesses were passing by, or people living in the area, some did not actually see Shipley shoot Tsingine, but one witness in particular, Ryanle Benally, was not asked to do a witness statement the night of the shooting.
RELATED: Police Killed More Native Americans in 2016 Than Previous Year
Benally said he had seen Tsingine minutes before she was shot. She left the Circle K, he said, and was followed by Officer Cano. Benally followed and said he saw “Tsingine’s legs flying in the air” as Shipley slammed her on the ground. He states Shipley was down on one knee and had Tsingine’s hands behind her back but then got up and moved back and that was when he shot her multiple times.
Benally said he yelled, “You didn’t have to shoot her!” He offered to help Tsingine by performing CPR as she lay on the ground still moving after being shot. He states Shipley pushed him out of the way and told him “no.” He offered again and Officer Cano also refused and said the medics were on their way. Benally, who watched Tsingine’s last minutes of her life as she was laying on the pavement, said he wasn’t questioned after the murder. He states he waited around for someone to talk to him but no one did. He wasn’t asked to complete a witness statement which other witnesses were asked to do. He finally went to a sheriff on scene and provided his contact information, stating he wanted to give a statement. They informed him they would call him soon but no one did.
On March 31, 2016, four days after Tsingine’s murder, Shipley was being interviewed by the Arizona Department of Public Safety in Winslow and about 15 minutes into the interview, another record I obtained shows the interview was interrupted because a witness named Ryanle Benally was there demanding to be interviewed as a witness. His interview was taken that day but Shipley was not questioned about Benally’s presence. Office Cano who was on the scene when Tsingine was murdered and acknowledge Benally’s presence in his report but both were not questioned about Benally’s statements immediately after the shooting.
One year later, Shipley is free and has not been prosecuted for Tsingine’s murder. The community and her family remember it all too well. At a recent vigil, family, community members, and human rights advocates marched from Winslow City Hall to the Winslow Police Department with signs and banners and chanted “Justice for Loreal” and “No Justice No Peace, No Racist Police.” Bordertown Justice Coalition member Brandon Benallie (Diné/Hopi) who helped to organize the vigil said there were at least 20 people in attendance. Other groups represented were The Red Nation, the NAACP, and the Winslow Diné group.Benallie said Winslow police have never apologized to the family and have never offered any solace to the family after their loss.
Benallie said the police department did not come out to speak to the group, but a participant in the march alleged that police sat in unmarked cars throughout the walk.
At the end of the vigil, the wind picked up and there was a gentle sprinkle of rain, Benallie said. This is significant because in the last two vigils held for Tsingine in Winslow, it was met with rain as well. Moreover in the investigation it was noted that after Tsingine was shot, strong winds picked up suddenly. Benallie and the family believe the traditional belief that this is a sign that Loreal is watching and was there with them in spirit.
Moving forward, both Dempsey and Benallie said they will continue to put pressure on the City of Winslow to provide answers. They want to pressure the Navajo Nation to be accountable to their word to seek justice for Loreal Tsingine. They want the United States Department of Justice to hold the investigation they talked about late last year. Dempsey in particular wants answers and Benally echoes the cry, if there is no justice there will be no peace.
Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. She and four other plaintiffs won a case against the Washington football team that stripped it of six of its seven trademarks. Follow her on Twitter @blackhorse_a. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.