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News Release

Western Native Voice

In the latest development in the Cole v. FBI misconduct case, Judge Haddon, of the U.S. District Court in Helena, denied the request for summary judgement made by the FBI. Cole v. FBI case resulted from the murder of Steven Bearcrane, a Crow tribal member. In 2005, Steven Bearcrane was shot and killed by a white co-worker on a ranch located within the Crow reservation. The FBI investigation that proceeded has been widely criticized for misconduct and bias. The FBI had sought dismissal of the case on the grounds that the rights to sue the agency died along with Steven and that his family did not have legal ground to sue.

Currently, tribal police can not arrest or prosecute non-Indians for crimes, and the FBI investigates all major crimes on Indian reservations. The FBI investigated Steven’s death and the case concluded with the agent accepting the co-worker’s claim of self-defense. Steven’s family asserts that the FBI agent neglected the investigation and has a history of ignoring crimes against Native Americans, even at one point allegedly stating, “it’s just another dead Indian.”

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A recent Bureau of Justice statistics report showed that, “For American Indians age 25 to 34, the rate of violent crime victimizations was more than 2½ times the rate for all persons of the same age.”

Steven’s mother, Earline Bearcrane, expressed her shock and joy when her lawyer, Trish Bangert, shared Judge Haddon’s decision. “We weren’t expecting a decision so soon,” Bearcrane said, “We have gone through so much for the last 11 years going through the courts. This case has consumed our lives, the life of Precious (Steven’s daughter), and we have been brought this far by God.”

Based on an August 8, 2019 decision, the Cole v. FBI case will not be a jury trial. Steven’s family requested a jury trial, while FBI counsel argued that this type of suit could, by law, only be a trial by judge. As a result, Judge Haddon called for a trial by judge, while also denying the FBI’s request for summary judgement to dismiss. Now that the FBI’s request for summary judgement has been denied, the case of Cole v. FBI will go to trial.

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for November 1 at 10 AM at the Paul G. Hatfield courthouse in Helena.

Western Native Voice is a non-profit, non-partisan social justice organization working to inspire Native leadership through community organizing, education, leadership, and advocacy. With 7% of Montana’s population being Native American, living almost evenly split between reservation and urban areas, WNV organizes in both rural and urban communities using a culturally tailored community organizing and citizen education model to build Native leadership.