PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Former Director of Public Safety Everett Little White Man has been returned to office by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council which named Wilmer Young Man as the new police chief.
On May 25, when members of the council emerged from a two-hour executive session and voted unanimously to replace the top two officials in the tribe's public safety department - interim director Art Hopkins and Police Chief Charlie Cummings.
Hopkins, a long-time public safety officer from Kyle, had served in the position for less than a month. Cummings was appointed at the same time as Hopkins.
In a related move, described by some council members as "a way to bring stability," the council voted to place the Department of Public Safety directly under the authority of the council's Judiciary Committee.
"The current board of directors will continue, but in an advisory capacity only," said Medicine Root District Councilman Manuel Fool Head.
Little White Man said he was surprised by the council action and had no foreknowledge it was coming. The long-time BIA law enforcement official had been involved in a sustained campaign to receive back pay for himself and two other public safety officials terminated with him. At the May 24 council meeting, citing a March 18 directive by the OST Supreme Court, the council voted unanimously to give Little White Man, Rhonda Two Eagle and Crystal Eagle Elk back pay to Jan 24.
Tribal Chairman Harold Salway suspended Little White Man on March 26, 1999. After three months, the tribal council reinstated him July 1. Then, in a move since ruled illegal, the Public Safety director voted July 6 to terminate Little White Man. The embattled director filed a grievance against the board for wrongful termination. Several court appearances and legal maneuvers later, on Jan. 24, the OST court reinstated him.
The board of directors then appealed the case to the OST Supreme Court. On March 18, the Supreme Court upheld part of the lower court's ruling and ordered the board to give him back pay to Jan 24. As for Little White Man's reinstatement, the case was remanded back to the lower court.
Noting that the council resolution is only a 90-day appointment, Little White Man said he is not making any long-range plans. "There is an awful lot of work to be done for 90 days, but it's important work, and I'm sure we'll do our best," he said. Little White Man had been reinstated by the council Feb. 12, but was physically restrained from entering the Public Safety Building.
The new director confirmed wide-spread rumors that Public Safety was experiencing difficulties. "We are having financial troubles - and that's what I'm going to be working on for the next 90 days," Little White Man said. "The bank account is exhausted. We still do have money in our contract, but we're only drawing them down on a monthly basis. But the expenditures will exceed the drawdowns, and that's the problem I'm going to have to try to address."
The chief of police position, at best, is provisional. Young Man's position is being advertised, according to the resolution," Little White Man said. On a more hopeful note, Little White Man said he expects the recently approved Circle Project to be a much-needed shot in the arm for the department.
"The treasurer, Chuck Jacobs, assured the council that all the paper work had been completed and was sent overnight mail to the Justice Department. Hopefully we'll hear something within the next few days.
OST Public Safety has been at or near the center of the on-going controversy surrounding takeover of the tribal government offices known as the Red Cloud Building. At one point, Public Safety officers were ordered by Tribal Chairman Harold Salway to arrest tribal members. Word of this prompted a swift and strong reaction from Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Gover, who said prosecution for civil rights violations would follow any more such activity.