Reservation residents say cops profiling, intimidating
RAPID CITY, SD – Fear of law enforcement by Native Americans appears to be pervasive in Rapid City.
And that fear rose at least a notch in its intensity during this past week as word spread throughout the Native American community that a young Oglala Lakota was shot to death behind his house in Sunnyside Mobile Home Community.
“I figured it was an Indian,” said Stephanie LaMont of Porcupine, S.D., who was referring to the shooting death of 22-year-old Christopher J. Capps. Capps was gunned down by a Pennington County Sheriff’s Department deputy on May 2.
“In fact, when I heard it on the TV, I turned to my husband and said: ‘I’ll bet that’s a Native American,’” she said, acknowledging that her family feels threatened by law enforcement personnel in Rapid City.
“That’s what they (police) do down here, isn’t it?” said Mike Claymore of Eagle Butte, who visits Rapid City about once per month. “Shoot Indians. They’ve been doing that for years.”
Claymore said he hadn’t heard about Capps, who died in a hail of bullets fired by Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Olson in an open field behind the mobile home community, where his parents – Jerry and Jaylene Capps with their now-dead son – have lived for a dozen years.
Public records show that at least two Native Americans and one African-American were shot to death by officers in the Rapid City Police Department in 2003.
Those shootings likely prompted Claymore’s remarks about a climate of fear minorities have of law enforcement in the Black Hills region. A public march to protest the fatal shooting of Capps is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 1, in Rapid City.
Capps, who had been accepted at the University of South Dakota – Vermillion, was pronounced dead at Rapid City Regional Hospital after the May 2 fatal shooting. His funeral was May 7. Burial was in Mountain View Cemetery.
Phone messages left with the Rapid City Police Department and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department were not returned by press deadline.
“If you’re an Indian, they (the police) give you a hard time here,” said Delano Whiteface, originally from Porcupine and who used to live in Rapid City but now lives in Lame Deer, Mont. “They’ll pull you over and run a check on you and, even if it comes up clean, they will intimidate you,” he said.
Whiteface, who said he’s been out of jail for four to five years now, added that he’s been booked into the “city jail system” more than once.
“They wouldn’t even let me make a phone call,” said Whiteface, who was in town to visit ailing relatives at Sioux San Hospital.
“When I insisted, they ‘tased’ me,” Whiteface said, lifting his T-shirt to show the resulting scars on his left side and back. “It was two jailers. I found out later that they weren’t trained or certified to even use the taser gun.”
Whiteface, who said that when he spoke out at the jail, they put him in isolation, said he wasn’t physically fearful, but said he watches all the time to try to avoid “run-ins” with law enforcement. He, too, acknowledged that law enforcement “are threatening in this town” and that most members of his family in Rapid City feel much the same way.
“I have a wife and children. I don’t need them (police) jacking me around,” Whiteface said, noting that police often “bring their own feelings” into incidents and situations that instead require professional law enforcement behavior.
“There’s that kind of fear. When I come around here, I’m not at ease,” he said. “I fear that they (police) are going to do something that will take months and all kinds of money to clear up. It can ruin your life.”
One three-member family from the reservation declined to talk or identify themselves on the record to Native Sun News for fear of reprisals from law enforcement.
But LaMont was unafraid to speak out. She said her sons, Ricardo, 12, and Juan, 18, don’t like to come to Rapid City because of constant problems with the police.
“They are frightened that something will happen,” said LaMont, who will graduate in nursing from Oglala Lakota Community College in June. “They’d rather stay on the reservation where they feel safe.”
LaMont and her husband, Ramore, talked about an “embarrassing and intimidating” incident that happened last summer.
“We got stopped for drugs,” she said. “They (police) saw the number on our plates (65 identifies the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on South Dakota license plates) and pulled us over right at the edge of town. We had been to Walmart shopping and they made us put all of our groceries along the side of the road.”
LaMont said she ended up handcuffed, and the police sent a drug-sniffing dog into their vehicle. The dog found nothing. The police also searched the vehicle, but found nothing.
“They were racially profiling,” said LaMont. Her husband, Ramone, agreed.
“That’s what they do here,” he said.
“She’s a member of the tribe, and that’s what happens,” he added.
“But worse than that for me was in Nebraska,” she said.
“They (police) stopped us after seeing the ‘65’ on the plates. Soon there was one highway patrol car for each person in our car. We each had our own cop,” she said.
“And they took my youngest son (11 at the time) into the last one (patrol car) – as far away from us as they could get,” LaMont said.
She acknowledged that that was “frightening for him and for me, too.”
“They saw the 65 and just assumed we were running drugs,” said LaMont, who added that the patrol officers forced her to “show my socks and lift my blouse.”
Again, the sons were separated from their parents.
Again, no drugs were found.
Again, no arrests were made.
Lamont said they were free to go – free to go once they reloaded the groceries lining the shoulder of the highway.
“Yeah, we’re afraid,” she said. “I’m very fearful. That’s why we are so careful. We just don’t want to get pulled over.” Her husband again agreed.
“They were profiling again,” said Ramone, who has a Mexican-American ethnic background. “They do it all the time around here.”
One man, Therman Horse of Porcupine, faced an equally frustrating incident with city police. He said he has a young granddaughter who is “blond and blue-eyed.” He said he was out one evening a “couple of weeks ago” near Prairie Edge.
“I’ve got 65 on my plates,” he said. “So, when we were done shopping, we got in my car and drove away not thinking a thing about it.”
“Someone called the police to report that I had abducted the child,” Horse said. “Police put out an APB (all points bulletin) for me as a child abductor.”
Horse was not arrested, but he had to do some follow-up work because the APB wasn’t withdrawn until he got things cleared up.
“No one arrested me,” Horse said. “But no one seemed to care that my name was out there. I had to go down and clean things up for them (police). They didn’t work very hard clearing the case. I was no stranger to that little girl. She’s my granddaughter.”
LaMont said that driving to Rapid City always takes some extra courage. Prices are high for groceries on the reservation, she said.
“Sometimes, just to make it, we have to make the trip,” she said.
“We have to watch it very carefully,” Lamont said. “We have to be very cautious because we don’t want to get pulled over.”