Rebecca M. Sotherland, an Oglala Sioux Tribe police officer, has been indicted for the use of “excessive force,” following a video that went viral last week showing her tazing an unresponsive man approximately 17 times.
According to a release issued by United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson from the District of South Dakota, Sotherland, 32, was indicted on August 26, 2014, by a federal grand jury for violating the constitutional rights of a man in her custody (on August 15) by repeatedly using her Taser on him without justification and for Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law and Assault with a Dangerous Weapon.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe made no formal comment to ICTMN other than to confirm that a meeting between OST Tribal officials, the BIA and the OST Department Public of Safety was held and reports from the OST DPS have been turned over to the BIA Internal Affairs office for the start of an investigation. The FBI is conducting a separate investigation.
OST President Bryan Brewer did comment publicly on Facebook stating, “Good Morning people who live in the Wounded Knee district and the Pine Ridge reservation. Office[r] Sutherland has been placed on suspension until further investigation. This investigation will happen very soon. The video camera she carries has yet to be reviewed. I will notify the people when further action is taken. Wopila”
The video, which shows Sotherland repeatedly tazing an unresponsive man with onlookers swearing, counting the amount of audible tazings to 17 – was shot on a cell phone and was shared thousands of times on Facebook within hours. The video, entitled “Sadistic Cop Tazes Man 17 times” and other similar titles has since hit news agencies all over the world and the video has been uploaded all over the internet.
On Facebook, several commenters claim they witnessed the incident as well as knew of the victim and/or Officer Sotherland.
Sis Cliff on Facebook says her daughter recorded the video and remarked about Officer Sotherland, “I hope this girl is no longer a police officer. All she had to do was let him up, he was asleep when she started to taze him.”
Cliff further responded to a woman who thanked her for recording the incident, “Don’t thank me, thank my baby. She stopped her from doing more if she didn't stop and see this (THIS MAN PROBABLY WOULD OF GOT KILLED BY THIS SO CALLED OFFICER) the man was intoxicated & could not help his self he was handcuffed as well.”
Another commenter on Facebook Otto Cuny responded to the video in a curse-laden post, “[Deleted]…she threw my dad in mud and was going to charge him with resisting arrest if he didn't get up. Hope something is actually done about this...this [deleted] will hurt elders so for damn sure she'll hurt a kid.”
Another woman who says she was a witness, Laura Clifford commented, “The kids even said, ‘that's the 17th time she tazed him’ so sad they were watching & had to count each time. I saw it too. It was sickening.”
According to a May 29, 2014 story on MSNBC entitled, “Law and disorder on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” Officer Sotherland was featured and described as an “oddity” on the OST police force because she is a “blonde-haired, blue-eyed, former hair salon-owner, former city coroner who describes herself as a “white mutt.”
According to the MSNBC article, Sotherland grew up about an hour northeast of the reservation, in Hot Springs and joined the tribal police department last year. She also patrolled alone, often on foot as it was “easier to get the drop on unsuspecting drinkers and other lawbreakers.”
Penalties in accordance to the actions of Sotherland if convicted include a maximum 10 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 assessment to the federal crime victims’ fund. Restitution to the victim may also be ordered.