PINE RIDGE –– The family of Kylen T. Shangreaux, 2, whose lifeless body was found battered and bruised in Porcupine on July 28, would like to see changes in the way child custody cases are handled in tribal court.
According to an Aug. 11 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of South Dakota, Kylen’s birth-mother, Katrina Shangreaux, has been arrested and charged with First Degree Murder, Felony Child Abuse-Aggravated Battery of an Infant and Felony Child Abuse & Neglect.
Shangreaux appeared and pled not guilty in federal court on Aug. 10 in Rapid City. The press release states, “The charges relate to Shangreaux inflicting blunt trauma to a child, causing his death.” She is currently being held in the PenningtonCounty Jail.
Before Kylen was born, his birth-mother had told her maternal aunt, Gloria No Neck, that she did not want the unborn boy. Upon birth on Nov. 19, 2013, Kylen left Regional Hospital in the care and custody of No Neck.
“Auntie, I wanna give you my baby. I don’t want him. At the time, I was working at Porcupine School and didn’t know if I could get leave to take a newborn baby home. But she promised me they would sign over the parental rights, but they never did,” No Neck told Native Sun News.
No Neck and her husband maintained custody until Kylen was approximately 14 months old. This time period was hard on the family as James and Katrina were constantly taking Kylen without permission and coming over to visit him while they were high or drunk, according to No Neck.
Finally, Katrina and James regained custody from Gloria, but not without a fight. “They made up all these lies about us. We did fight for him. She was the bio-mom so there was nothing we could do. That was messed up that the judge (Judge Dominique Alan Fenton) didn’t’ even listen to our side,” she told NSN.
It was not until Kylen was nearly 1 ½ years old, that Katrina Shangreaux filed for and gained custody of Kylen through tribal court. James (Kylen’s father) and Katrina lived with James’ parents in Pine Ridge with Kylen. At this time, Angela Shangreaux (Kylen’s aunt) noticed the young boy was “withdrawn” and possibly in mourning and missing the only parent he knew up until that point, Gloria No Neck.
“Katrina was really not that involved, she was a nonparticipating parent while living at my parents’ house. She stayed up in her room the whole time. She did not cook, bathe, play with, or even change Kylen’s diapers,” Angela Shangreaux said in an interview with Native Sun News. “James did everything for those kids. He (Kylen) just looked really unhappy with her.”
Kylen was in the custody of Katrina and James for a brief few months in 2015, before “Gloria came back and tried to fight for custody” of Kylen, Angela Shangreaux told NSN.
Stepping in, Kylen’s paternal aunt Angela asked for and received consensual guardianship in a notarized document signed by both James and Katrina Shangreaux on April 10, 2015. Angela was living in Rapid City at the time and wanted to get needed dental work done on the young boy.
“His four front teeth were rotting due to the candy and bad hygiene he had before I got him,” said Angela. In a written statement to the court, Angela explains, “Since that time Kylen has been in my care financially and medically. I have a fulltime job, a car and my own home. Kylen and I share an extremely strong bond.”
In June of 2015, Angela moved from Rapid City back to Pine Ridge to live with her parents, Rick and Patti Shangreaux. At the time, James and Katrina had been staying in the home as well.
Even though Kylen’s birth parents lived in the home, Angela felt the pair were not dependable or reliable to “babysit” Kylen while she went to work. She paid Rhianna Rodriquez and Rae- Lynn White Calf to watch Kylen while she worked. Both biological parents were suffering from addiction and the erratic behaviors associated with addiction.
“There was no bond there. There was nothing there for his mom (Katrina). No love. He didn’t even call her Mom and she didn’t seem to care. James showed him the most attention, the most love,” Angela Shangreaux told NSN. The young boy chose to call Angela mom early on and had done so throughout the period he was in her care.
James Shangreaux Sr. was arrested in Nov., 2015 on unrelated charges and has been incarcerated in Pennington County Jail since. In mid-December, Katrina was taken to Regional Hospital by a family member for an alleged drug overdose. This was all part of the reckless behavior she exhibited with and without custody of Kylen, including two DUIs, according to Angela Shangreaux.
On Feb. 5, 2016, an ex parte Guardianship Order was granted with a March 8 hearing set (this hearing eventually took place on March 25). The reunification process was to begin and weekly overnight visits were ordered for Kylen and Katrina. A drug test was ordered by the court after Katrina Shangreaux volunteered to take one in the courtroom. According to OST Tribal Court documents, “That test, however, was never completed.”
As suggested by the court, Angela Shangreaux kept a log of the overnight visits. Her log documented the concerns throughout the reunification process; including suspected second hand smoking incidents, adjusting meeting times to help Katrina who had no vehicle and a missed visitation on April 20 due to Katrina’s incarceration in Pine Ridge jail for a DUI arrest.
Judge Alexander Fenton presided over these court proceedings, who according to Angela Shangreaux is 27 years old and holds a degree in journalism. This “inexperience on the bench” has been of great concern for Shangreaux and her family, she tells NSN.
Shangreaux told Native Sun News that witnesses and evidence she had wanted presented to the court were denied by Judge Fenton; which in her words, would have illustrated the poor parenting skills she felt Katrina had. These witnesses and information would have proved Katrina to be “unfit” as a parent, according to the grieving former custodial parent of Kylen.
On May 6, custody of Kylen is awarded to Katrina, but immediately following court, Angela had filed a Motion to Stay. “Why are you making it hard for her to get her kid back?” Angela claims was asked of her by Chief Judge Kimberly Craven following this court date.
On May 13, the hearing on the Stay and a Drug Test Review Hearing took place. Finally, after a May 31 TECO hearing, Katrina was awarded custody of Kylen. In an emotional video on the Facebook page, “Justice for Kylen,” Angela turned Kylen over.
Native Sun News attempted to contact Judge Alexander Fenton, but was directed to Chief Judge Kimberly Craven. She declined to be quoted in this article, but provided some background information regarding this case and wanted Native Sun News to refer to the Oglala Sioux Youth and Family Code when publishing this article. Judge Craven could not comment specifically as the court and several organizations are under investigation regarding the custody case of Kylen T. White Whirlwind.
During the next few months, Angela Shangreaux concedes she did not fight for Kylen. She tended to things in her life she felt were being neglected during the custody fight. Shangreaux would like to see Judge Fenton removed from the bench.
In the early morning hours of July 28, emergency vehicles were called to Evergreen Housing to the residence where Katrina and Kylen were living. “I actually remember that ambulance going by,” Angela told NSN. A friend had called her at work to tell her, “One of those kids died at that house.”
“I started getting really panicky. She said, ‘Angie, it was Kylen.’ I fell to the floor screaming. I was hysterical,” she said of getting the news Kylen was dead.
Part of her did not want this story to be true. “I was clinging to the small hope that nothing happened. Finally, I drove to the emergency room. Let me see my son! Let me hold him! He’s cold and I want to keep him warm! No! No! God no!” she pleaded with nursing staff at the Pine Ridge IHS hospital.
A nurse told her, “You don’t want to see him like that. The CI’s have a hold on his body. I laid there and screamed and cried.” Soon an FBI victim’s specialist came to talk to her. “I realized something really bad had happened. This was my worst nightmare, this was my reality. I can’t go to court. I can’t even fight for him anymore.”
Days later, the morgue staff suggested the family consider having a closed casket; then she saw Kylen’s body. “I just started screaming! Oh my God! He was so badly beaten. Even his hands were bruised and cut. His lips were just black. He was covered in bruises. I think his nose was broken, too.”
Katrina Shangreaux was arrested on July 29 at the house where Kylen’s lifeless body was removed. In every case, she is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
For Angela Shangreaux, justice for Kylen goes beyond a judgment against the person responsible for his death, she feels justice will be served when the Oglala Sioux tribal court system takes measures to prevent a tragedy like this from happening to another child. Shangreaux would like to see a “Kylen’s Law”.
(Contact Richie Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org)