After failing to communicate with the family of Lindsay Whiteman about her murder for two years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) finally contacted Lindsay’s brother last month to let him know that an agent would be dropping off the clothes Lindsay was wearing the day of her murder. The FBI barely investigated the two individuals known to have murdered Lindsay. They did not even bother to meaningfully communicate with her mother Erlina Old Person concerning her daughter’s case. They did, however, hold onto the clothes she was wearing the day she was killed for two years. And last month, in yet another action of callous disregard for Lindsay and her family, the FBI called the family only to say an agent would drop off her clothing, which they did.
“The FBI can discard Lindsay’s clothing, but they cannot discard the agency’s federal duty and responsibility to thoroughly investigate the murder of Lindsay Whiteman,” states the family’s attorney, Mary Kathryn Nagle, a Partner at Pipestem Law.
On October 31, 2018, Lindsay Whiteman, a citizen of the Blackfoot Nation, was murdered on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana by two non-Indian teenagers, Esandro Rodriguez and Ernesto Lopez. Lindsay and another Blackfoot woman, Amy Sue Whitegrass, were riding in a car with Rodriguez and Lopez when one of the boys shot Amy point-blank in the head. When Lindsay attempted to prevent them from driving away, they brutally hit and killed her with the vehicle and drove away. The two teenagers fled to Great Falls, Montana, where they were arrested, but no charges of any kind have been filed against them.
“Because Lindsay was a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation who was murdered on the Blackfeet Reservation, the United States has criminal jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of the homicide that ended her life,” explains Nagle. “The United States, however, has done almost nothing. This is inexcusable. Investigating and prosecuting the murder of a Native woman—a mother, a daughter, and a sister—is not an option for federal agencies to merely consider. It is a legal duty and obligation that both the FBI and the United States Attorney must undertake.”
In this instance, both the FBI and the United States Attorney in Montana have failed to fulfill their duties and obligations to investigate and prosecute the two individuals responsible for Lindsay’s murder. The FBI failed to communicate with her mother regarding any developments in her case. Lindsay’s mother, Erlina Old Person, has repeatedly asked to meet with the FBI, but the FBI never undertook a thorough investigation of the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, like the FBI, has also made no meaningful efforts to stay in touch with Lindsay’s family. The U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute Rodriguez and Lopez, going so far as to tell the family her death was an “accident,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and despite the fact the FBI failed to conduct nothing more than a barebones investigation. Not only did the U.S. Attorney’s Office decline to bring murder charges, it also declined to bring any sort of charges directly related to the deaths at all, even manslaughter charges. These law enforcement agencies continue to fail Lindsay and her family with each passing day that her death goes unnoticed. They must be held accountable.
The crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (“MMIP”) is made worse by law enforcement agencies that continue to let criminals who murder Native women walk free. Both the United States Congress and the executive branches of the federal government have recognized this crisis and have informed the Department of Justice they must improve efforts to seek justice on behalf of Native women. Yet, on the ground, in Indian country, the problem continues on.
It is the job of the Department of Justice to ensure Native women like Lindsay receive justice and are not ignored and forgotten by the very organizations tasked with protecting them. Lindsay Whiteman’s death must not go unnoticed any longer.
“It is cruel and disrespectful to drop the clothes she was murdered in off with her family after over two years of complete inaction,” states Nagle.
“For years we have asked the FBI to talk to us,” states Lindsay’s mother, Erlina Old Person. “We have asked them to investigate the two individuals we know killed Lindsay, and we have asked them to talk to us. After two years, we finally heard from them again. But the phone call was simply to inform our family they are dropping off her clothes. They think their job is done. But it has not even begun. My family will not stop demanding that the FBI do their job until they do. My daughter deserves justice, and I will not stop until justice is served.”