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A former Oglala Sioux Tribal Court judge is suing tribal leaders to get her job back or be compensated, claiming she had been illegally terminated.

In October 2016, the tribal council fired Chief Judge Kimberly Craven and two other judges following complaints over their handling of a 2-year-old boy’s custody case. The boy, Kylen Shangreaux, died in July 2016, two months after the tribal court ordered him returned to his mother. The mother, Katrina Shangreaux, was charged with beating the boy to death over a potty-training issue.

Katrina pleaded guilty in March to a federal charge of second-degree murder and is waiting to be sentenced.

On May 15, Craven filed a lawsuit in Oglala Sioux Tribal Court, alleging the tribal council terminated her despite not getting enough votes for the action. She asked to either be paid $500,000 in damages or be reinstated and paid for lost wages, benefits and attorney’s fees, according to her court filing.

The defendants — tribal President Scott Weston and 11 current or former elected officials — asked the court Thursday to dismiss the case.

They stated several reasons, including that Craven had waived her right to sue the tribe and its officials under settlement agreements signed last year. As part of the settlement, the tribe vacated her termination, accepted her resignation dated August 2016, and agreed to compensate her, according to the defendants’ written response in court.

Three days after filing her lawsuit, Craven wrote to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, asking it to consider charges against two tribal employees in relation to Kylen’s death. Craven accused a Child Protective Services worker of not investigating conditions in Katrina Shangreaux’s home and of not recusing herself from the case though she was supposedly Katrina’s friend.

Craven also accused a tribal prosecutor of not gathering necessary evidence to prosecute Katrina on allegations of child abuse.

“I want the blame and potential criminal liability to be placed where it rightfully belongs,” Craven said in the letter, a copy of which she provided the Journal. “I am tired of being called a baby murderer in the press and on Facebook.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Katrina, declined to comment on Craven’s letter.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted in a special session to remove Craven and two associate judges over unethical judicial conduct. Angie Shangreaux, Kylen’s paternal aunt who took care of the boy for a year before Katrina regained custody, had complained that the child was taken from her without due process.

Craven said 10 of the 16 council members present at the session voted for her removal — one vote short of the two-thirds required for a motion to pass.

Tribal leaders, in their motion to dismiss Craven's suit, said four council members abstained from voting so the number of votes that decided Craven's removal was based only on the 12 "yes" or "no" votes cast. 

Craven, 59, who now lives in Nebraska, said she had been willing to resolve the issue outside court.

Last year, she said, the tribe offered her $52,000 but so far has paid her only half. She said negotiations broke down after she signed some court orders that tribal leaders asked her to merely draft.

The tribe acknowledged that its settlement agreement with Craven called for paying her $52,000, including $7,000 to draft court orders and transition memoranda as a temporary “Special Judicial Advisor” to the tribal court.

The tribe said it paid Craven half of the grand total, with the rest to be given after she’d finished her job as judicial advisor. It said Craven’s signing court orders — which the tribal court mistakenly distributed to case parties — constituted a breach of her settlement agreements and terminated the tribe’s obligation to pay her the balance.

Craven, on the other hand, believed she maintained the full authority of her old job till she received the tribe's full payment.

“I still considered myself the chief judge, so I signed them,” she said in an interview. The tribe said the validity of her orders is now being appealed in tribal Supreme Court.

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Contact Tiffany Tan at tiffany.tan@rapidcityjournal.com.

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Cops and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Rapid City Journal from February 2016 to July 2018. Contact her on Facebook or Twitter @tiffgtan.