Murder in Montana

WINNIPEG, Manitoba Canada – Fathers worldwide enjoy special privileges on Father’s Day and look forward to receiving cards and calls from their children. Arthur Shorting’s morning began with a phone call from his daughter as he lay in bed sleeping next to his wife, Betty.

Arthur answered what should have been his first Father’s Day call on June 15, 2008, but instead heard his daughter’s frantic voice telling him their son, her brother, 33-year-old Israel Shorting, had been murdered.

Over 1,400 miles away in Browning, Mont., on the Blackfeet Reservation, local law enforcement rushed to the house Israel Shorting shared with his girlfriend, Charlene Old Chief, after receiving a hurried call to 911 made by Israel. During the call Israel stated that his girlfriend’s son, Justin Old Chief, was terrorizing his mother.

By the time law enforcement arrived 10 minutes later; Israel was unresponsive and later pronounced dead at a local hospital. The house was surrounded by crime scene tape and local media. News headlines screamed homicide. The sheriff called his death suspicious. The county coroner listed the cause of death as “homicidal violence from blunt force to the neck.”

They suspect his girlfriend’s son, but he hasn’t been charged. “Paul Harvey once said that you could go to the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Mont. and kill anybody you want and get away with it. I used to joke and laugh and I thought – no, things aren’t that way. We have standards. Now that my son has been killed, I’m starting to believe it,” Betty Shorting said. “How come these people can get away with it? I question that every day.”

Israel worked as a Blackfeet firefighter crew boss and had three children who live in Canada.

The family of the victim was led to believe the perpetrator would be prosecuted. After traveling to Browning, the Shorting’s met with the state attorney general and three FBI agents who informed them they were unable to prosecute because the perpetrator was claiming self-defense; that Israel’s death was an accident.

The family wonders how it’s possible to beat someone until they are black and blue, break their neck and get away with calling it self-defense.

“Sheriff Wayne Dusterhoff sat down with us and told us it was a murder investigation, that our son had been murdered and that somebody was going to go to prison,” Betty said.

In a Feb. 19 letter from Kurt G. Alme, first assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Montana, Alme says, “The evidence is undisputed that Mr. Old Chief killed your son. He claimed in writing, however, that he did so in self-defense. The prosecutor in this case concluded that it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Justin Old Chief did not kill your son in self-defense. Importantly, when taken in their totality, the forensic examiner cannot opine that the wounds to Israel were not caused by Mr. Old Chief in self-defense.”

“The FBI refused to talk to us,” Arthur Shorting said. “All they said was, ‘There is what we know and there is what we can prove.’”

Betty Shorting and her son Israel are members of the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Mont., while Arthur Shorting is an Algonquin Indian from Manitoba, Canada.

Crime has long been a problem in Indian country, but the violence has spiked in recent years. Most of that rise, according to authorities, is linked to drugs.

According to FBI statistics, homicides and non-negligent manslaughter on reservations increased 14 percent between 2002 and 2006. Robberies jumped 123 percent between 2002 and 2006. Federal statistics show that American Indians are victims to violent crime at more than twice the national rate.

According to the 2000 census, reservation unemployment was 13.6 percent and almost one in three residents lived below the federal poverty line.

On Jan. 5, the Great Falls Tribune reported on alleged sex offenders and other alleged criminals who have found a safe haven on the Blackfeet Reservation because law enforcement officials from neighboring jurisdictions are unable to serve warrants or extradite suspects for prosecution.

The tribe has a history of declining to extradite residents until it is able to negotiate government-to-government

agreements with counties.

Someone you wouldn’t want as a neighbor, required by law to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, lives on the reservation where the order can’t be enforced. Another fugitive indicted on a felony count of partner or family member assault with two prior assault convictions was living on the reservation as of January and unavailable for arrest at that time. If he is arrested and convicted, he could face two to 100 years

in prison.

According to a memo submitted by the National Congress of American Indians as part of the presidential transition effort, workers responsible for policing crime on reservations are overwhelmed and “grossly underfunded.”

Federal law enforcement officials investigate and prosecute most serious criminal activity in Indian territory. Justice Department officials are asking prosecutors in states with large American Indian populations to meet regularly to discuss issues and want to establish an Office of Tribal Justice within the department.

Last year, President Bush signed into law a bill that included an amendment to create an Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and original co-sponsor of the legislation, said the Obama administration has failed to fund the amendment in its 2010 budget devoting $750 million to help fight reservation crime.

However, the Obama administration has vowed to address rising crime rates on reservations with a series of initiatives designed in consultation with tribal leaders. The package of initiatives will be presented this fall at a final “listening session” and will be attended by representatives from hundreds of tribes and led by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Correspondence or donations for a memorial stone for Israel Shorting can be sent to: Betty Shorting, P.O. Box 33, Browning, Mont. 59417.