A Nebraska State Patrol investigation is still ongoing into an officer-involved shooting last month at a Rushville church, while Native American leaders are lobbying the Department of Justice to look into the matter.
Cody Thomas, the public relations director for the Nebraska State Patrol, confirmed Monday that the investigation into the shooting of Clarence Leading Fighter, 32, during Palm Sunday services at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church is still underway. State law requires that a grand jury be convened any time an individual dies in custody or during apprehension. The Sheridan County Attorney’s Office has turned its portion of the case over to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.
The Lakota People’s Law Project, however, is not waiting for action by the NSP or Attorney General. According to the organization’s website, it has submitted a letter to the Department of Justice seeking further investigation into Leading Fighter’s death.
The letter to the DOJ, which is posted in its entirety on the organization’s website, claims that an eye witness to the incident last month says that Leading Fighter had already been incapacitated by a Taser before he was shot by sheriff’s deputies. The letter also claims that a state patrol press release after the incident misrepresented the events leading up to the police pursuit of Leading Fighter. The press release said Leading Fighter was a suspect in a domestic dispute earlier in the day after deputies found a victim with a broken arm. The letter to the DOJ alleges that the victim’s arm had actually been broken “days prior.”
According to information released by the Nebraska State Patrol in the aftermath of the shooting, Leading Fighter was shot by Sheridan County Sheriff’s Deputies who were attempting to apprehend him in connection with an alleged assault. Deputies responded to 303 Chamberlain Street in Rushville at just before 10:30 a.m. that morning and discovered a victim with a broken arm, according to a Nebraska State Patrol press release. The investigation led authorities to Leading Fighter, who was shot just after 11 a.m. after entering the church.
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Leading Fighter was pronounced dead at a local hospital, said Thomas in the days after the incident. Thomas declined to comment on how many deputies were involved in the incident, whether or not Leading Fighter was in possession of a weapon and whether other non-lethal means were employed first in an attempt to stop him. He also did not comment on the sequence of events that resulted in Leading Fighter entering the church.
In addition to the Lakota People’s Law Project, other activist groups have become involved in calls for Leading Fighter’s death to be investigated. Among them are the American Indian Movement, Native Lives Matter and the Indigenous Peoples Movement. AIM and the Lakota People's Law Project collaborated on scheduling a pair of events this past weekend to call attention to the matter: an informational gathering session in Pine Ridge, S.D., Saturday, and a Mother’s Day March for Justice for Clarence Leading Fighter. A caravan of supporters left Pine Ridge Sunday morning and gathered in front of the Rushville Church later that day.
Father Joseph K. Joseph said Monday the gathering at the church by the group did not disrupt Sunday services.
Sheridan County Sheriff Jeff Brewer said Sunday's march was a peaceful one.
"Everything went really well," Brewer said.