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Published September 26, 2013, 08:21 PM

Prosecutor lauds program to combat tribal violence

North Dakota's top federal prosecutor says a program to reduce violent crime on American Indian reservations is working and his office will continue to dedicate time and money to the project.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's top federal prosecutor says a program to reduce violent crime on American Indian reservations is working and his office will continue to dedicate time and money to the project.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon on Thursday released an in-house review to tribal and law enforcement officials that touts a dramatic increase in the number of prosecutions and highlights several major cases in the last year. The report comes two years after the anti-violence initiative was launched and three days after a man was convicted in a double murder on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

"We're obviously not going to solve the problem in two years," Purdon said in an interview. "That being said, we're pleased with the initial steps we've taken toward safety on reservations."

The federal government primarily handles sexual assault, homicide, illegal weapons and drug cases on tribal lands, which include primarily the Spirit Lake, Fort Berthold, Turtle Mountain and Standing Rock reservations in North Dakota. Standing Rock straddles both North and South Dakota.

Purdon said Department of Justice statistics show that cases prosecuted on those reservations increased 84 percent from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2012. Cases highlighted in the report include two wide-scale drug trafficking indictments; one dubbed Operation Prairie Thunder, on the Standing Rock Reservation, the other tabbed Operation Winter's End, on Fort Berthold.

Purdon said there are no plans to cut back on investigations on reservations, despite shrinking budgets.

"First and foremost, we're committed to this. We're going to do whatever it takes to work with our tribal partners to make their communities safer," Purdon said. "All I can control is how we allocate the resources we're given and how hard we work. We're doing more cases. We're focusing on removing the most violent predators on the reservation."

One of those cases ended on Monday when a federal jury found Valentino "Tino" Bagola, 20, guilty of two counts of felony murder for the May 2011 slayings of 9-year-old Destiny Jane Shaw-Dubois and her 6-year-old brother, Travis Lee DuBois Jr., in St. Michael.

That case has been a rallying cry for reform at Spirit Lake, where the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took over the child protection system about a year ago after complaints about rampant abuse of children. Purdon assigned four of his attorneys to the Bagola case, which was complicated by an early confession from the father of the children.

"That shows that we're willing to take on the hard cases and make sure that justice gets done for those victims," Purdon said.

Purdon said his office has been involved with prevention programs on the reservations, such as town hall meetings, consultation conferences, and student programs. He said there are plans in the works to help with an intervention plan for offenders returning home from federal prison.

However, Purdon said his staff can only do so much on the front end of potential violent crimes.

"We can't run the tribal government, we can't run the various programs on the tribe, we don't even control the people who police the tribe," he said. "In the end, when things are bad and people get hurt or sexually assaulted or murdered, we come in and try to deliver some measure of justice to those victims."


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