Attorney General Marty Jackley yesterday released additional findings that attempt to exonerate the Brown County Jail of any responsibility for the death of inmate Sarah Lee Circle Bear in early July. After publishing autopsy details last month indicating Circle Bear died in the Brown County Jail from a meth overdose two days after she was taken into custody in Roberts County, A.G. Jackley now says jailers asked whether she had been taking drugs:
On three separate occasions Circle Bear was asked if she had taken or was under the influence of any illegal drugs, including the time of her arrest, booking into Brown County Jail and during the mental health evaluation and each time she denied [Attorney General Marty Jackley, press release, 2015.09.03].
The autopsy results raised questions about whether Circle Bear could have suffered overdose effects from meth taken more than 48 hours before her death. Such delayed overdose effects are possible with meth, but A.G. Jackley says Circle Bear appears to have brought the meth into the jail with her:
After the review of jail surveillance video and numerous interviews, investigators found no evidence to indicate Circle Bear obtained methamphetamine while in custody at the Brown County Jail and the totality of evidence demonstrates she brought the controlled substance into the Brown County Jail in a way that was not detectable from regular and acceptable jail procedures. The investigation results were found to be consistent with the forensic autopsy findings. The source of the methamphetamine is part of the criminal investigation associated with the initial traffic stop in Roberts County and may be further disclosed through normal course of those proceedings [Jackley, 2015.09.03].
Hmmm… if an inmate is able to smuggle contraband into the Brown County Jail, doesn’t that suggest that Brown County jailers are using inadequate security measures? I wouldn’t say that makes jailers culpable in Circle Bear’s death—she evidently chose to take the meth—but it should raise questions about why they didn’t catch the meth.
The lead report in the Aberdeen paper focuses on law enforcement’s response (or, in the case of Roberts County, lack of response) to the findings and further press inquiries. Indian Country Today repeats the claim from Circle Bear’s family that she was pregnant at the time she was arrested and airs their continued skepticism of the official actions and findings:
Terrance Circle Bear Sr., Sarah Lee’s father, told ICTMN on Thursday that he feels the Brown County Sheriff’s Office is withholding information.
“If she was more closely monitored why didn’t they take her to the hospital?” he asked.
Authorities also claim that three times authorities asked Circle Bear if she was under the influence of drugs. “Each time she denied,” the press release reads.
In August, ICTMN had requested the toxicology report on Circle Bear to confirm her pregnancy at the time of her death, but Rabern said it is against South Dakota state statute to release toxicology reports to the public [Simon Moya-Smith, “Authorities End Investigation into Death of Sarah Lee Circle Bear,” Indian Country Today, 2015.09.03].
Elisa Sand follows her front-age story with a separate article on Terrance Circle Bear’s intent to sue Brown County:
Terrance Circle Bear, Sarah Circle Bear’s father, of Eagle Butte said the case will be taken to civil court.
“From the witnesses that were in there with her, she was badly mistreated,” Terrance Circle Bear said.
He said witnesses say his daughter asked for help multiple times and no help came. That contradicts Brown County Sheriff Mark Milbrandt’s take that jail staff “acted appropriately” in caring for Sarah Circle Bear.
“It took a white inmate to push the button for them to come to her aid,” Terrance Circle Bear said. “Why was she not helped? Was it because she was Native American? We’re all entitled to this world. They made it so that she wasn’t by not helping her” [Elisa Sand, “Circle Bear’s Father: Lawsuit Likely,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.09.04].
An Indian woman’s death in jail is ruled a drug overdose for which Brown County officials bear no responsibility. Charges of racist insults from a white man at a Rapid City hockey game are dismissed by a Pennington County judge. Both incidents could draw a Red Lives Matter hashtag. But both incidents lie in a fog of uncertainty where the official rulings from available evidence don’t support charges of racist behavior.