Last updated on 2014.01.14
Remember the controversial NPR report last October that investigated inequities in South Dakota's treatment of Native American children in our foster care system? Well, that radio journalism was good enough to win reporter Laura Sullivan and her NPR producers a 2012 Peabody Award, the oldest and most prestigious award for electronic media.
The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform alleges that good national journalism isn't protecting local Native advocates from retaliation by South Dakota officials. NCCPR's blog suggests there are dots to be connected between the state ACLU's follow-up to the NPR investigations and the state's taking of ACLU-SD director Robert Doody's stepdaughter into foster care.
Um, NCCPR, you might want to drop that argument. The seizure of Doody's stepdaughter probably had much more to do with the fact that he beat the twelve-year-old girl with a belt than any political agenda.
The NCCPR supports a second allegation of whistleblower retaliation with a bit more substance. They cite a Lakota People's Law Project report on the case of Brandon Taliaferro. The former deputy state's attorney was fired from his job in Brown County last September. LPLP says that Attorney General Marty Jackley charged Taliaferro and court-appointed child advocate Shirley Schwab with witness tampering and subornation of perjury just two weeks after the NPR broadcast of its findings of abuse in South Dakota's foster care system. Taliaferro and Schwab say the charges are retaliation for their efforts to protect Lakota children from foster care abuse:
According to Lakota People's Law Project (LPLP) investigators, the charges against Mr. Taliaferro and Mrs. Schwab were filed because of their repeated attempts to protect and enforce the rights of four young Native American girls, ages 7, 9, 14 and 16, who were involuntarily removed from their Lakota mother by D.S.S. officials and placed with Richard and Gwendolyn Mette. Mr. Taliaferro conducted a professional investigation and concluded that Richard Mette had repeatedly sexually molested the two older girls, while Gwendolyn Mette threatened to punish the children if they told authorities. Repeated reports of Richard and Gwendolyn Mette's conduct were conveyed to D.S.S. officials. However, the D.S.S. steadfastly refused to undertake any investigation of the Mettes. The four girls had originally been placed with the Mettes, a white couple, over the repeated objections of the girls' adult sister, who had asked that the girls be placed with her, as is required by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. In placing the Indian girls with the Mettes, the South Dakota D.S.S. violated section 1915 of the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act that mandates that all active efforts necessary be undertaken by state D.S.S. officials to place Indian children removed from their Native parents' homes with their closest Indian relatives.
Mr. Taliaffero and Mrs. Schwab assert that South Dakota State Attorney General Jackley and his Department of Criminal Investigation operatives are actively coordinating with D.S.S. officials to use fabricated allegations of "unauthorized disclosure of confidential abuse and neglect information" and "witness tampering" to try to discredit the clear and convincing evidence that incriminates both Richard and Gwendolyn Mette of criminal conduct against the Indian children placed in their custody by the State D.S.S. These actions came immediately after the embarrassing National Public Radio expose of the decade-long pattern of unlawful conduct on the part of South Dakota State officials ["Justice as Retaliation," Lakota People's Law Project, May 21, 2012].
This spring, Richard Mette pled 34 felony charges involving five alleged victims down to a single charge of rape against a nine-year-old girl, for which Judge Jon Flemmer gave him 15 years in prison. Beadle County state's attorney Michael Moore arranged that deal. He was also appointed by AG Jackley to prosecute Taliaferro and Schwab. Moore was supposed to bring them to court this week, but a change in judges has delayed that trial.
The Mette-Taliaferro case is not pleasant to look at. But the media need to look closely so we can learn exactly what happened and ensure that our courts and Department of Social Services are acting in the best interest of all of our children.