Oglala Lakota president in limbo after sexual misconduct allegations

This October 2018 photo shows Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner when he was running for tribal president. (Ryan Hermans/Rapid City Journal via AP, File)

Mary Annette Pember

Updated: Council falls short of a two-thirds majority after emotional impeachment hearing

Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

The Oglala Lakota Nation's council apparently declined to remove President Julian Bear Runner from office during an emotional impeachment hearing Monday based on sexual misconduct allegations.

Eleven council members voted in favor of removal with five against and five not voting.

According to the tribe’s constitution, a council member can be impeached for ethics violations including crimes, gross incompetence, corruption or malfeasance. Removal from office requires the support of two-thirds of the 21-member council, or 14 votes.

The 18-year-old man who accuses Bear Runner of misconduct testified Monday via Zoom about two alleged incidents with Bear Runner, one when he was 17 and a second when he was 18.

“My heart is broken; I am glad I spoke up because this can’t be swept under the rug although it was,” the teen wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the hearing ended.

He did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Indian Country Today is not identifying him because of his age at the time of the alleged incidents.

Bear Runner, who also declined to comment, testified that the allegations were false. He expressed concern that the complaint was based largely on social media posts. He also complained that the hearing process denied him his U.S. constitutional right to due process under the Fifth Amendment.

Neither of the incidents were reported to police.

“It comes down to ‘he said, she said,’” Bear Runner said during the hearing, which was broadcast on KILI radio and KOLC TV via YouTube.

Council member Chauncey Wilson made a motion to turn over the complaint to the U.S. and tribal attorney generals. The motion failed.

Bear Runner is the youngest person to hold the office. After last year casting the deciding vote in favor of recognizing same-sex marriage under tribal law, Bear Runner publicly announced that he was gay on his Facebook page.

The council voted to suspend Bear Runner on Aug. 24 after receiving the sexual misconduct complaint. It’s unclear when or how he will be reinstated or even how the impeachment vote will play out.

Bear Runner also was suspended in July after tribal council members said he issued a COVID-19 lockdown and then failed to communicate with them. He was reinstated Aug. 6.

In May, Bear Runner was arrested on suspicion of driving while drunk and threatening a man. He has pleaded not guilty. 

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