Crow Tribal Police eye former BIA jail to begin detention operations

The Crow Tribal Police and Crow leadership are eyeing a closed Bureau of Indian Affairs jail on the reservation to meet the newly formed police force’s detention needs.


Several administrators with the Crow Tribe, Bureau of Indian Affairs and gathered at the site of a former BIA jail on the Crow Indian Reservation to discuss the possibility of the tribe taking ownership of the jail to book offenders arrested by the new tribal police force.


On Friday, several Crow Tribe administrators, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., toured the facility and discussed the challenges the new police force is facing in detaining offenders.


The Crow Tribe formed its own police force on June 27, ending an agreement for policing by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which previously policed the reservation.


The police force does not have its own detention facility, and there is no operational jail on the reservation, which tribal judges say has hampered judicial processes on the reservation.


After forming its own force, the tribe is now trying to lease or gain ownership of a former BIA detention facility at Crow Agency to mitigate those issues.


Currently, people arrested by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are transferred to the Two Rivers Detention Facility in Hardin, which has been leased and operated by the BIA since February 2019.


Tribal officers are only able to “cite and release” currently since there is no place to jail offenders, said Crow Police Chief Terrill Bracken.


Tribal Associate Judge Michelle Wilson said arrests have gone down to just one or two per week. On a typical week there is usually about 15 arrests made, she said.


“There have been a couple of days gone by without any arraignments in court and that’s quite unusual,” Chief Judge Dennis Bear Don’t Walk told Daines. “I believe the crimes are happening, but because of the lack of cooperation (between tribal and BIA officers) these people are not being held accountable or taken to jail.”


The lack of incarcerations, and judicial proceedings as a result, is “becoming a huge safety issue for our tribal members,” Bear Don’t Walk said.


Some of the decline in arrests made by the BIA has been due to COVID-19, Wilson said.


Inmates are medically cleared by the Indian Health Service before being booked into the facility, which has bogged down the system, according to Crow Tribe chief operating officer Karl Little Owl.


Vacant jail

The jail was closed in 2014 and again in 2016 by the BIA.


The building has some structural issues, including water damage, black mold and some previous asbestos, said Lt. Clarice Miner with the BIA.


Renovations to make the facility compliant with federal standards would be funded through the CARES Act. The tribe was awarded more than $25 million in COVID-19 relief monies.


During the tour of the abandoned detention facility, which sits across from the Crow Tribal Courts building, BIA and police officials spoke on the benefits of acquiring and renovating the building.


Not Afraid said the new jail could mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the reservation.


The BIA facility in Hardin is the regional detention center. Tribal members from Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations, and sometimes from other nearby reservations, are housed there.


“The more we house our Crow membership with other tribes—they’re more susceptible with contracting (COVID-19),” Not Afraid said.


Dion Killsback, attorney to the tribe, said a request to the BIA to convey the title, or lease the building to the tribe was filed in early June. The tribe has yet to receive a response from the federal agency.


In the meantime, the tribe has ordered temporary “jail pods,” according to Not Afraid, but those pods won’t arrive for months.


Earlier on Friday, Daines met with Not Afraid, and other tribal officials, to hand out COVID-19 supplies to tribal elders. About two dozen cars waited in line in the Apsaalooke Nights Casino parking lot to receive bags with gloves, face masks and jugs of hand sanitizer.


Later, Daines and others delivered a bag and two boxes full of groceries to a tribal elder, Harriet Leider Little Owl, 86, at her home in Crow Agency.