STURGIS – As if to stress the points that advocates for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirits (MMIWG2) publicized at the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a joint federal-state-county sting collared eight men during an undercover sex trafficking bust conducted here at the time.
Charged in the Aug. 7-13 rally op are Robert Lee Goodwill, Jr., 20, Rapid City (Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking of a Minor); Cody Wayne Hopkins, 29, Montgomery, Penn. (Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet); Michael Ray Hudson, 32, Rapid City (Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet); Travis John McDonald, 28, Rapid City (Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet); William Nicholas Riley, 60, Sturgis (Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet; Kevin William Clements, 22, Claysville, Penn. ( Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking of a Minor); Darren Wilber Harrison, 25, Rapid City (Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet); and (Christopher Covey Dale Truax, 33, Rapid City (Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet).
In related arrests made during the two previous annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rallies, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey L. Viken sentenced Kenneth Williamson, 52, of Rapid City, and Conner Harmon, 22, of Sturgis, for Attempted Receipt of Child Pornography, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office announced Aug. 24. Each was sentenced to five years in federal prison, followed by supervised release.
In the 2019 sex trafficking sting operation, which focused on internet predators, Williamson was federally indicted following multiple chats and text messages with a person he believed to be a 15- year-old girl, but who was in fact a secret agent. Williamson requested sexually explicit images from the agent and proceeded to negotiate the time and place he would meet the supposed minor to engage in unlawful sex acts. When Williamson went to the pre-determined location to meet the subject, he was instead met by law enforcement officers and placed under arrest, according to authorities.
Harmon was arrested in a 2018 rally sex trafficking operation and federally indicted following multiple chats and text messages with a person he believed to be a 14-year-old girl, but who was in fact an undercover agent. Harmon proceeded to negotiate the time and place he would meet the supposed minor to engage in unlawful sex acts. When he went to the pre-determined location to meet the subject, he was instead met by law enforcement officer and placed under arrest, authorities said.
The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted this year’s operation.
Native women motorcyclists led the Sturgis Medicine Wheel Ride 2020 during the rally to raise awareness about the crisis resulting from failure to protect populations vulnerable to human trafficking and mete out justice to lawbreakers. The ride coincided with the release of a yearlong study called To’ kee skuy’ soo ney-wo-chek’, which means “I Will See You Again In a Good Way” in the Yurok language.
The report, undertaken by California’s largest tribe, is part of a 3-year project intended to be a model for native governments to safeguard families under their jurisdiction. The report’s native authors close it with recommendations based on case studies they conducted in families who wanted their stories told to honor loved ones and improve the justice system.
Take Andrea LaDeroute, a Tolowa woman suspected to have been murdered in 1980 at age 20 by white serial killer John Annibel. Her remains were missing for 22 years; her skull was found in 2002. Despite DNA evidence, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office never charged him for her murder.
The Tolowa Dee’ni’ Nation was terminated in 1960, and reinstated in 1983, meaning LaDeroute was not recognized as Tolowa due to termination. “Apathy about identifying Natives correctly dated way back,” said her cousin Joseph Giovannetti, a researcher and Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation Tribal Council delegate.
From the Grand Ronde and Pit River tribes, Heather Leanne Cameron has been missing for nearly eight years, “and yet as of July 2020, the California missing persons directory still incorrectly lists her racial identity as white,” the report notes. Her last contact was a 911 call, saying she had been drugged and taken to a remote area.
Unknown quantities of situations like Cameron’s and LaDeroute’s “exist in this legal limbo, thereby contributing to the severe undercount of MMIWG2 cases that we work with today,” the report said.
Unlike Cameron and DeLaRoute, Angela McConnell, 38, was an enrolled member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe with Mohave, Yurok, and Karuk ancestry. Yet, ever since she was murdered in Shasta County in 2018, her case remains unresolved.
Her mother Tammy Carpenter resides in Humboldt County, seemingly a world away from the District Attorney responsible for the case and from the Hoopa Valley Reservation where she raised McConnell. “Even with the police over there in Shasta County I am– I feel like they are not doing enough. There’s nobody there to help me. I need help, for somebody to go over there and start being an advocate for me,” Carpenter said.
“The need for advocacy is intense,” according to the report. “The ability to support Tammy and families like hers starts with open and honest communication between families, tribal bodies, law enforcement agencies, and justice systems, communication that is most tangibly expressed in the form of open and complete data sharing that recognizes the concurrent jurisdiction of tribes over their citizens…. This can and should lead to cooperation by law enforcement teams,” it said.
“In other instances, the actual case is misclassified in that those who have gone missing or murdered are actually classified as having died as a result of suicide, hypothermia, alcohol intoxication, or even ‘undetermined’ causes of death,” the report finds.
Natasha Steele from the Lytton Rancheria and Round Valley Tribes went missing in June 2019 after reportedly kayaking with an acquaintance near Crescent City, Calif. When her body was found, the man who had reported her missing had left the area and her death was ruled an accident despite suspicious circumstances that were never fully investigated, according to the report.
Likewise, Alicia Lara, a Tarahumara woman who died in the Yurok community of Weitchpec in 1991, was classified as having died in a car accident. When her daughter Christina Lastra pressed the Coroner’s Office, she learned her mother’s death showed multiple signs of homicide. Some 30 years later, Lastra is left wondering, “I would like to know why the Humboldt County officials didn’t do anything and why they felt compelled to tell me and my brother that she had died in a car accident…”
The authors noted, “We found that in Northern California, 37 percent of cases where case classification is known were misclassified as suicide, undetermined, or accidental. Without accurate data, tribes, law enforcement officers, and justice agencies are severely limited in their ability to address MMIWG2. This is further exacerbated by the fact that some data just isn’t gathered, data that MMIWG2 families and survivors need in their pursuit of justice.”
Angela Mae Jeff was a California Valley Miwok tribal member who disappeared from Oakland in 1980. She experienced domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend, who is thought to have fled the country after her disappearance. Oakland Police Department responded to a FOIA request indicating they had no record of any missing Native female, despite her case being registered in their jurisdiction in the national NamUs listing.
In this instance, even the case of the disappeared itself had disappeared.
(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman @ gmail.com)