A former doctor with the Indian Health Service in Pine Ridge and convicted child sexual abuser is the subject of an upcoming Frontline documentary.
"Predator on the Reservation" is the result of a two-year investigation into Stanley Patrick Weber, a 70-year-old white man who was recently found guilty by a federal jury in Montana and sentenced to 18 years for sexually abusing two Native American boys on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. Weber is appealing that decision and awaiting a September 2019 trial at the Rapid City federal courthouse. He faces 12 charges for allegedly committing similar sex crimes against Native boys on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The 50-minute documentary, produced by Frontline and the Wall Street Journal, illustrates "the decades-long failure to stop Weber, a government pediatrician, who moved from reservation to reservation despite warnings about his behavior," Frontline writes on its website.
It will air on South Dakota Public Broadcasting TV on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. Mountain Time.
Many local former IHS and criminal justice officials are featured in the film including Bill Pourier, former CEO of the Pine Ridge IHS; Mark Butterbrodt, a former IHS doctor; Elaine Yellow Horse, a former prosecutor with the Oglala Sioux Tribe; and Tatewin Means, the former OST attorney general. Bob McSwain, a former director of the IHS, admitted the agency tolerated problem doctors since it's hard to find good physicians who want to work on reservations.
The film also features interviews with victims from Pine Ridge and Montana, former IHS staff in Montana, and Christopher Weaver and Dan Frosch, the WSJ reporters and Frontline correspondents who investigated Weber and the IHS.
The film opens with a sign reading "Welcome to Oglala Lakota Nation" and a recording of a detective interviewing Weber in his home in Pine Ridge. The detective asks him why nurses said he was "emphatic" about seeing skinny, muscular, young male patients and why he has been accused of sexual abuse for the past 20 years. Weber denies ever having sexual relations with patients.
The documentary zooms into the WSJ reporters explaining how they learned about Weber. It then focuses on accusations made against Weber after he arrived to work as an IHS doctor in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation in 1992, and then accusations against him in Pine Ridge.
Some complaints against Weber were ignored and not investigated, while others resulted in an investigation that cleared him of any wrongdoing. For example, after a boy told a police officer with the Oglala Sioux Tribe that Weber abused him, the officer reported the incident to the Bureau of Indian Affairs since the OST can't prosecute major crimes. But the BIA never contacted the boy. In 2009, IHS officials did investigate and temporarily suspend Weber but found no wrongdoing. The man who investigated him pleaded guilty in 2012 to possessing child porn.
The investigation that finally lead to charges came about after Elaine Yellow Horse, then a prosecutor for the OST, remembered in 2015 that Butterbrodt had told her about Weber years ago. She reached out to Tatewin Means, the OST attorney general at the time, and they agreed to look into the complaints against him.
The pair looked into a past assault against Weber that resulted in serious injury to him but no police report and no charges. Yellow Horse and Means eventually got in touch with the people who attacked him, which included a boy who Weber abused.
They gave the boy's name to the BIA which investigated Weber. In 2017 he was charged in South Dakota federal court with 10 sex crimes against minors. In February 2018, he was indicted for five crimes in Montana. Later that year, two more charges were added to his South Dakota case.
Toward the end of the movie, actors read from the transcript of a victim who testified during the Montana trial. Victims from Pine Ridge also testified and broke down in tears at that trial. Weber, a tall, slender man, is shown smiling as he enters and exits the courthouse. "It's a nice day today, nice sunny day," he told the cameraman.
Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, acting IHS director, agreed to be interviewed after Weber was sentenced. He said he's creating a new policy to make all IHS employees mandated reporters, and investigating which employees knew about the allegations against Weber. So far, no one at IHS has been held accountable for failing to act on allegations against him.
The film ends with people reflecting on whether they could have done more to stop Weber, who is set to go to trial in Rapid City on Sept. 23, 2019 unless he reaches a plea deal by Sept. 6.
At 11 a.m. Mountain Time on Feb. 12, Yellow Horse, Means, Weaver, and Joe Flood, a journalist who broke the news of the investigation into Weber, will appear on the Native America Calling radio show. People call 800-996-2848 to comment or ask questions. A recorded version of the show will later be posted online.
The weather the day the girl went missing from a residential youth home in rural Pennington County significantly hampered efforts to find her.
When search and rescue personnel arrived in the early afternoon last Sunday to search for 9-year-old Serenity Dennard near the Black Hills Children's Home near Rockerville, there was little snow on the ground, said Willie Whelchel, chief deputy of the Pennington County Sheriff's Office.
"There would have been no footprints in the snow because we didn't have any," he said. The snow began falling mid-afternoon, and would have covered up evidence of Dennard's trail, such as overturned leaves.
"Quite frankly, the snow didn't help us with this," Whelchel said of the fresh snow that fell after Dennard went missing and throughout the week. "It makes it harder for the dogs, it makes it harder for ground folks to be searching obviously because it would be very easy to go right by something."
Rain can wash scent away while snow can blanket the smell, said Tammy Stadel, a dog handler and the team leader for Pennington County Search and Rescue. Cold weather creates smaller scent molecules, which means the smell doesn't travel as far or smell as strong.
Whelchel said the sheriff's office "made every attempt" to get helicopters or planes with heat imaging devices, but the weather — low clouds and snow — didn't allow any aircraft to take off.
"From a law enforcement perspective, we're always looking to get involved as soon as possible," Whelchel said when asked if staff at the Children's Home should have called 911 sooner.
Dennard ran from the facility at 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning and after searching for her, staff called police at 12:26 p.m.
Whelchel said it's possible that staff didn't realize how much time had gone by in the high-stress situation.
"What seems like maybe minutes isn't," he said. "Time moves quicker than we think, especially if you're not looking at your watch."
Despite snow and below-freezing temperatures, more than 200 people and dogs searched for Dennard Sunday through Tuesday, and a plane from the Civil Air Patrol was able to fly Monday. Whelchel said people with hand-held heat imaging devices first looked in areas where Dennard would have been familiar with from going on hikes with staff from the Children's Home. A map in his office shows where human, dogs and the plane searched within and beyond a one-mile radius of the facility. He said the sheriff's office doesn't have drones, but hopes to get them for future use.
Search efforts were called off Wednesday and Thursday due to cold and dangerous weather conditions. Dennard was already presumed dead by Tuesday night if she spent her time in the woods.
On Friday, one dog and some search and rescue personal were looking for Dennard in deep snow, Whelchel said.
Over the weekend, a helicopter and seven live scent and cadaver dogs will continue the search.
Dennard's photograph and a warning she is missing is also now plastered across a digital billboard on Jackson Boulevard, near the intersection with Main Street. Whelchel said the billboard idea was from Lamar, the international advertising company that owns that billboard. He said he wasn't sure if Lamar has other billboards with the same information.
Whelchel said there is still no evidence that Dennard pre-planned an escape or was taken by someone once she left the Children's Home. He also said the search has turned up no evidence from her, such as clothing or items she may have been carrying.
The couple that the sheriff's office was initially looking for hadn't seen Dennard, but a staff member who was looking for her, Whelchel said. However, a woman dropping a family member off at the facility did see Dennard at a nearby cattle gate around 11 a.m.
He said the woman saw Dennard after dropping the relative off and was backing up her car, which had another passenger inside. The woman got out of her car and went inside to tell the staff that there was a girl outside. Meanwhile, the other person inside the car saw Dennard walk north up the road. By the time the woman returned to her car, Dennard was gone, and she couldn't find her as she drove up and down the road.
Whelchel said the sheriff's office is in "regular contact" with Dennard's parents. "They're devastated," he said.
"Our focus right now is to bring Serenity home."
This story has been updated. The time that Black Hills Children's Home staff called 911 was 12:26 p.m.
Above the grand marble staircase of the South Dakota capitol building is a mural depicting an American Indian offering an animal skin to a white settler, titled “The Advent of Commerce.” More than two centuries after pioneers settled on the land now considered South Dakota, the state may finally be offering its American Indian people something in return.
Senate Bill 126, introduced by Senate Minority Leader and Rosebud Sioux tribal member Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, would recognize the language of the O'ceti Sakowin, also known as the Great Sioux Nation, as the official indigenous language of South Dakota. The language is comprised of three dialects: Dakota, Lakota and Nakota.
The Senate State Affairs committee on Friday, Feb. 8, unanimously voted to approve the bill after hearing over an hour of testimony from members of several of the state’s nine federally recognized tribes.
Now, SB 126 moves onto the full Senate, then the House, before it can land on Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s desk. If it is signed into law, South Dakota would be the first in the contiguous United States to officially recognize in statute its indigenous language. Alaska and Hawaii already have similar laws on the books.
Tribal members that testified Friday said that after centuries of colonization and erasure, SB 126 would recognize and celebrate not only the language, but also the heritage, culture and existence of indigenous people.
Elyssa Sierra Concha teaches kindergartners through second-graders at the Lakota Language Immersion Program at the Red Cloud Indian School located in Pine Ridge. She was tearful as she asked committee members on Friday to pass SB 126 “for our children” so they can “grow up knowing that their state is fully behind them and who they are as indigenous people.”
“By passing this bill, you will let them know that who they are and the language they speak is not only recognized, but celebrated,” Sierra said. “I want these beautiful children in here and all throughout the state to feel nothing but pride growing up instead of having to fight for who they are.”
The United States’ history of erasure of American Indian heritage runs deep, dating back to the country’s initial colonization by Europeans in the 15th Century. Along with tactics like forced removal and genocide, Europeans, then Americans, coerced American Indians to conform to Western culture through institutions like boarding schools, where young American Indian children were forced to rid themselves of their native culture by cutting their hair and speaking only English.
Faith Spotted Eagle, an American Indian activist, described to committee members arriving to school when she was 5 years old, where she had to give up her native language for English. She said SB 126 has been “a long time coming.”
Nikina Mills, an Oglala Sioux Tribal councilwoman, told legislators that her great-grandparents were punished for speaking Lakota. Mills, along with her grandparents and parents, never learned their native language as a result.
Now, her 8-year-old son speaks Lakota thanks to the Red Cloud Indian School’s immersion program. She began crying as she told legislators how special it is to her that he is able to speak the language she was never able to learn.
“It took over 100 years, four generations, for my son to be able to have the Lakota language be a part of his life,” Mills said, asking committee members to pass SB 126 not only for current speakers like her son, but also those to come.
Heinert told committee members that SB 126 is “a chance to right some wrongs" and honor the state's heritage.
“This is probably one of the biggest bills I’ve brought in my tenure,” Heinert told media on Friday. “My only regret is I haven't brought this bill sooner.”