Civil suit filed for Six
RAPID CITY, S.D. - Nearly a year
to the day that Albert J. Six Feathers Jr. was killed by a law
enforcement officer in Fall River County, a civil action lawsuit
was filed on behalf of his estate in federal district court
Six Feathers was fatally shot at the end of a high-speed chase
from Newcastle, Wyo., that finished near Edgemont, S.D., while
he was surrounded by county sheriff's deputies and state law
enforcement officials. A coroner's inquiry shortly after the
incident determined that Edgemont Police Chief Brett Jarman was
not held responsible for Six Feathers' death.
"It is the most egregious act of civil rights violations I've
seen," said Charles Abourezk, attorney for the estate. Robin
Zephier is also listed as an attorney of record.
"I was outraged by the excessive response and killing of Albert
Six Feathers," Abourezk said.
He said at the time of the incident he was made aware of it
through the news media, but he said he knew there was more to
the story than what was reported. "Law enforcement controlled
the story for weeks."
The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Six Feathers estate asked in
preliminary filings for a more than $2.5 million settlement, but
Abourezk said that would be up to a jury. He said there were
children who would grow up without a father and it was only fair
to them to file this lawsuit.
In addition to the benefits for the estate, Abourezk said he
hoped to prove that finally in the year 2000 an American
Indian's life in South Dakota has more meaning than it used to.
"For years Indian people wound up dead in alleys and trash cans
and people looked the other way. But public investigations fail
to burn into the conscious of South Dakotans that violence
against Native Americans is wrong and that it carries with it
consequences as strong as to non-Indians.
"And, that law enforcement officials who crossed the line will
be held accountable," he said. "We intend to right one of the
worst wrongs imaginable."
Six Feathers was killed following a 90-minute, high-speed chase
that began in Newcastle where he was followed by city police
officer Robert Fazendin, who determined Six Feathers was driving
in an erratic manner.
Six Feathers drove south on Wyoming Highway 35 to Mule Creek
Junction then east to Edgemont. Fall River County officers and
Jarman picked up the chase at Edgemont. The chase at times
exceeded 100 miles per hour.
Six Feathers eluded road blocks and finally was surrounded in a
pasture south of Edgemont were he rammed Fall River County
Sheriff Jeffrey Terrell's car.
Jarman, who was riding with Terrell, jumped from the vehicle and
fired four shots from a shotgun, three of which hit Six
Jarman told the coroner's inquest he was certain Terrell's life
was at risk. Jarman told the jury he set a predetermined line
which he would not allow Six Feathers to cross. When he did,
Jarman fired two rounds above the steering column. The three
shots that hit the vehicle were at windshield level, which
indicated no attempt was made to shoot out tires to stop the
Gary C. Mann of the Rapid City Police Department testified
before the coroner's jury that road spikes and shooting the
tires rarely stop a vehicle. However, according to newspaper
accounts, near the same time, high-speed chases that ended in
Sturgis, Sioux Falls and Brookings were stopped with spikes that
blew the tires.
"He was not armed and was never given the benefit of tire spikes
or a tire shot," Abourezk said.
The lawsuit contends the state, the city of Edgemont and Fall
River County failed to properly train and supervise Jarman,
which amounts to a disregard for the constitutional rights of
the citizens, and Jarman. His need for training, the complaint
states, "was so obvious that defendants can reasonably be said
to have been deliberately indifferent to the constitutional
rights of Albert James Six Feathers."
The lack of training, proper supervision and discipline led to
the death of Six Feathers, the complaint argues, and continues
to add that his death was the result of reckless, willful and
wanton conduct by the defendants.
Because there were no criminal actions taken against any of the
defendants, the family took the step to file the civil action.
"There are civil rights statutes in place when all else fails to
provide some remedy," Abourezk said. He added that his hope was
that this case would bring awareness about the civil and human
rights of American Indians in South Dakota.
"We can make this change, one case at a time. I hope Indian
people benefit from this lawsuit. I'm more concerned about the
four kids that will grow up without a father," he said. "By all
accounts he was a good father and on a path to doing good."
Zephier said he had good knowledge that Jarman transferred
personal property into his wife's name after the incident. He
said it is a crime to transfer property to avoid payment for
damages as the result of legal action.
Part of the complaint alludes to the transfer of personal
property and with reasonable belief that tangible and intangible
evidence and materials were intentionally, negligently or
Damages are asked for funeral expenses, grief and loss of
companionship for parents, siblings and his common-law spouse
and the children; loss of wages and future support and punitive
damages. No trial date has been set, but could come within six
Sybil Hernandez, Six Feathers' mother, is administrator of his
estate and is the lead plaintiff in the case.
"Whatever crime he committed prior to the chase was only a
misdemeanor, and we have no capital punishment in South Dakota
for a misdemeanor. He did not deserve to die in the brutal
manner he did," Abourezk said.
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