Case Study

"I’m Not Faking!": Abandoned to Death in a Prison Cell [In-Progress]

Case study

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was a 25-year old Native American mother who died while in custody at the Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. On July 3rd, Circle Bear was held under arrest in Roberts County Jail, and later taken into custody at Brown County Jail. Throughout the days of her arrest, Circle Bear demonstrated signs of detrimental physical health as she continued to be moved to other jail cells. On July 5th, she was found unresponsive in her jail cell at Brown County Jail.

 

 

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this case study may contain images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that this study contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.

At the same time, each screen of these case studies testifies to target communities' strength and courage, as they respond to repeated deaths in custody through myriad creative forms, through lines of solidarity and through an unwavering call for justice.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was born in Eagle Butte, South Dakota on October 31st, 1990. She was a Lakota woman living in South Dakota. Circle Bear was a Native American mother of two children: a child of one year and a child of two years. As stated by her family, she was pregnant at the time of her arrest and death.

Arrest escalated to Custody

On July 3rd, Sarah Lee Circle Bear had been traveling with her boyfriend, Wayne Pahl. Circle Bear and Pahl had been taken into custody because of a traffic accident. Pahl had been driving on the Interstate 29 when became involved in a police car chase. Pahl and Circle Bear were arrested and taken to Roberts County Jail. Upon Circle Bear’s arrest, police enforcement viewed a bond violation under her name. She was then transferred to Brown County Jail to be held in custody. At the Brown County Jail, the staff viewed Circle Bear’s arrest reports. According to the police’s pending charges report, Circle Bear had ingested fatal amounts of methamphetamine before her arrest. Circle Bear had been asked whether she ingested illegal drugs, to which she had responded “no” on multiple occasions.

Circle Bear: From Disruptive to “Dangerous”

While in her cell, Circle Bear complained about ongoing stomach pains. The Brown County Jail staff claimed they had assisted Circle Bear with her complaints – such as providing Tylenol for her pain. In a visit with the jail’s clinical therapist, the therapist noted that Sarah appeared to be withdrawing from a chemical substance. The clinical therapist also stated that Sarah needed to be under suicidal safety awareness. In the course of the next couple of days, the staff regarded Circle Bear as “disruptive,” especially as she continued to demonstrate her discomfort. Jail staff noted that Circle Bear’s behavior was “scaring people by the way she was talking.” The staff claimed Circle Bear as dangerous, described as a threat in harming other inmates and herself.

Attorney General – Press Release – Referencing Circle Bear’s Accountability

On July 5th, Circle Bear was found unconscious in her cell. The Brown County Jail staff had “immediately” requested Emergency Medical Service (EMS) dispatch upon finding Circle Bear unresponsive.

The Division of Criminal Investigation completed an investigation on the Death of Circle Bear.

The Attorney General released a statement about the findings of the investigation. The Attorney General the accountability of Circle Bear for ingesting fatal amounts of methamphetamine before her arrest:

“Final autopsy results were released and confirmed that Circle Bear had died as a result of acute methamphetamine/amphetamine toxicity. Toxicology analysis of blood obtained at autopsy was positive for a toxic and lethal concentration of methamphetamine. The autopsy further showed no further evidence of injury which would have caused or contributed to her death.”

 

 

Uncertainties in Death – a different story

Despite the press releases that depict Circle Bear as solely responsible for her death, there were many warning signs about her mental and physical condition throughout her days in custody. These warning signs indicate possible responses that Brown County Jail could have taken to address Circle Bear’s condition. During Circle Bear’s custody, the Brown County Jail displayed negligence over Circle Bear’s health.

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Investigating Circle Bear’s Death: Exonerating Brown County Jail of any Responsibility

Uncertainties in Death:
Uncovering negligence since the moment of arrest

Evidence of negligence through documentation

There were various Brown County Jail records that documented Circle Bear’s concerning conditions of physical and mental health.

Once in custody, jail staff recorded a “pending charge” for the ingestion of drug substance. The South Dakota Public Health Laboratory also disclosed the among of 44868 mg/mL of methamphetamine in Circle Bear’s body. These two reports demonstrated a potential risk of withdrawal or vital side effects since the moment of Circle Bear’s arrest and custody.

In her documents of prescribed medicine, Circle Bear was given Tylenol even though Circle Bear was allergic to it.

There were various Brown County Jail records that documented Circle Bear’s concerning conditions of physical and mental health.

Once in custody, jail staff recorded a “pending charge” for the ingestion of drug substance. The South Dakota Public Health Laboratory also disclosed the among of 44868 mg/mL of methamphetamine in Circle Bear’s body. These two reports demonstrated a potential risk of withdrawal or vital side effects since the moment of Circle Bear’s arrest and custody.

In her documents of prescribed medicine, Circle Bear was given Tylenol even though Circle Bear was allergic to it.

“Quit faking.”

While in custody, Circle Bear continued to moan in pain for hours, moving constantly in her cell. In her cell, Circle Bear continued to rock back and forth, as well as pace around the room. Circle Bear remained agitated, anxious, and disoriented, but the jail staff refused to attend to Circle Bear’s complaints. Circle Bear had even pressed an emergency button in her cell, stating pain in her stomach. Instead of responding, the jail staff showcased multiple examples of disbelief. They responded to her suffering by yelling back, “quit faking!” and “knock it off!” The staff even made comments such as “Oh Sarah…you always do this when you are in jail.” Despite the constant requests for help, the jail staff did not take any precautions to monitor Circle Bear’s physical state. No vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, weight, or height) were ever taken to assist Circle Bear.

Leaving Her to Die

Circle Bear never received any medical care from any nurse, doctor or trained medical personnel while at Roberts County Jail or Brown County Jail. From Circle Bear’s medical history report to the warning signs in her behavior,  Circle Bear required vigilance, awareness, and medical attention. Brown County Jail’s lack of response demonstrated negligence over Circle Bear’s care by not responding accordingly.

What is happening now?

Circle Bear’s family is seeking justice. As of June 2018, Circle Bear’s family has filed a wrongful lawsuit against the County Jail.

Police Violence Against Native Americans

Native Americans have endured ongoing violence from law enforcement. Between 1999 to 2014, Native Americans were the highest ethnic group to be killed by police, including African Americans [Males: 2016 study]. Native Americans were also 3.1 times more likely to be killed than White Americans [Woodard: In These Times study]. In 2016, 21 Native Americans were killed by law enforcement, which was double the number from the year before. It is important to note that even with these numbers, reports on police brutality and killings are underreported because officers tend to incorrectly document their race as Latina/o, African American, or White. The violence against Native Americans continue in the confinements of prison. The number of Native Americans in prison is four times the national average and the number, per capita, of Native Americans in federal prison is 38% above the national average.

With their high numbers of deaths and imprisonment, Native Americans also experience violence and erasure in the public sphere. Many Native American killings by law enforcement remain underreported by the media. When there is visible representation, the discourse of defamation overpowers the representation of that Native American death. There is an institutionalization of identity and reputation that follows the killing, which influences the accountability of that death:

  • Applying criminality and deviance to the victims; this leads to politics of marginalization that become integral to the operation of criminal justice (34)

  • Constant process of persona to the victim: rough/respectable, dangerous/conforming, underserving/deserving

  • Character emphasis of the victim as violent, wild, dangerous

  • This defamation renders the victims’ death as justifiable

  • Addressing substance abuse as a “control problem,” categorization of “criminal” women as “sick”, “mad” or “disturbed”

Police Violence against Native Americans

Native Americans and their mental health is also dismissed and disregarded by law enforcement. Such dismissal of mental health and violent responses from law enforcement is evidenced in the cases of Paul Castaway and Loreal Tsingine.

Paul Castaway

Paul Castaway was shot and killed by Denver police officer, Michael Traudt.  On July 12th, 2015, Paul had broken into his mother’s, Lilian Castaway, residence. At that time, Lilian believed that his son was drunk when Castaway, who also had a history of mental illness, had approached and poked her on the neck with a knife. In a call for help, Lilian dialed 911. Officers Michael Traudt and Jerry Lara arrived at the scene, where they encountered Castaway running away. Castaway then proceeded to hold the knife to his throat and advanced towards the officers. After not complying with the order of releasing the knife, Traudt pointed his service weapon and shot Castaway three times, striking Castaway twice.

After a Denver Police Department investigation, the Denver District attorney determined that Castaway’s death was legally justified and did not hold any wrongful doing.

Narrative:

  • JULY 12, 2015 – Castaway’s death
  • Video footage
  • SEPT 15, 2015 – District Attorney’s letter claiming justification of death (attached)
  • JULY 11, 2016 – Lilian Castaway and her family filed for a wrongful death lawsuit (attached)
  • OCT 26, 2017 – A US District Court judge has denied the motion to dismiss the case and it will remain alive

Loreal Tsingine

Loreal Tsingine was shot and killed by Austin Shipley. In March 27th, 2016, Shipley had responded to a shoplifting call concerning Tsingine. Shipley had arrived as Tsingine had been walking down a street. Shipley then tried to forcibly place Tsingine in handcuffs, dragging her to the floor. As she stood back up, she walked toward Shipley with a small pair of scissors. Shipley responded by throwing her to the ground again. When she stood back up again, Shipley fired five shots at Tsingine.

Residing in Winslow, Arizona, Tsingine had had previous encounters with Shipley before. She also had a history of mental illness, to which the Winslow Police Department had previous knowledge.

Narrative:

  • March 27, 2016 – Tsingine’s death
  • Video footage
  • JULY 22, 2016 – Press Release to claim that no charges will be filed against Shipley
  • October 22, 2016 – Department of Justice (DOJ) report states the findings of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, resulting in no persecution of Tsingine’s case as a federal civil rights crime.
  • March 27, 2018 – The Navajo Nation submitted a Civil Rights Complaint on behalf of Tsingine’s family

 

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.

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