Several unidentified assailants remain at large after shooting and killing a young Pine Ridge man who authorities say was murdered in broad daylight on Sunday in the parking lot of a youth center.
The attackers killed Vinnie Brewer around 2 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot of the SuAnne Big Crow Youth Development Center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Tribal authorities confirmed Brewer’s identity and time of death to the Journal on Tuesday.
Reacting to the killing and the overall rising level of violence on the reservation, tribal authorities are promising a stronger police presence on the streets and in schools, and are seeking more autonomy in how they investigate murders and serious drug offenses.
Police are also hoping that by the end of the week they will have created an anonymous hotline for anyone with information about Brewer’s murder and other criminal activities on the reservation to call and leave tips.
Oglala Sioux Tribe Councilman CJ Clifford said he is related to Brewer.
“I know people are concerned for their lives at this point in time,” Clifford said by phone Tuesday. “We need a way to protect ourselves because we know we have a shortfall with law enforcement. It’s nobody’s fault here at the tribe; it’s a lack of funding from the federal government. The resources that are being sent are very minimal.”
On Tuesday morning, acting OST Police Chief Mark Mesteth appeared in a press conference along with OST President John Yellow Bird Steele and tribal Attorney General Tatewin Means to address growing safety concerns on the reservation.
Mesteth said one of the biggest challenges his department faces is a lack of adequate personnel. The OST Tribal Police Department now employs 27 patrol officers and two investigators. There are 11 vacancies on the department, Mesteth said, adding that it can take anywhere between six to nine months to fill a single position.
“Several years ago, based off our population and our crime rate, the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) said we should have 150 to 170 police officers,” Mesteth said. “We’re not funded for those levels. Being the second-largest tribe in the United States, we need more officers, we need more funding.”
Another challenge Mesteth said investigators face on the reservation is a lack of cooperation from tribal residents.
“We need our citizens to cooperate with the BIA Criminal Investigations Division and just open up and tell them what they know,” Mesteth said. “And that’s not happening.”
Brewer’s killing is the latest in a string of recent murders. In August, Todd Little Bull was shot and killed in Pine Ridge. Earlier this month, an unidentified woman was fatally shot; 13-year-old Te’ca Clifford was killed while walking on a street in July.
Those and several other violent incidents, including Brewer’s murder, remain under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the BIA.
But Attorney General Means is hoping to change how murders are investigated and prosecuted on the reservation.
“We’re seeing years and years go by before we’re seeing any federal prosecutions, and we’re seeing the result of that,” Means said during Tuesday’s press conference. “I just want to reassure people out there that tribal prosecutions, arrests and adjudications are priority now. We’re done waiting for the feds to get involved and take action against some of these drug dealers and drug offenses.”
Steele said he believed all of the recent murders in Pine Ridge were related to drugs, but would not elaborate.
“This incident that happened is not just one incident,” Steele said. “A person really sits down, he can connect the dots. And it’s several incidences of our tribal members being murdered. And it’s all related to drugs."
Means said she has asked 10 additional BIA officers to come to the reservation to assist with patrols on a temporary basis. Mesteth said his department is looking to add an additional 20 officers to the force, most of whom he plans to station in the reservation’s schools. The police chief would also like to set up a drug task force within the OST police department so drug-related crimes can be investigated locally instead of having to rely on federal interventions.
Steele hinted that one operating theory is that many of the killings in Pine Ridge have been committed by outsiders. Means said she supported the idea of setting up checkpoints to document who comes and goes from the reservation.
Means added she is also contemplating seeking help from outside law enforcement agencies in communities surrounding the reservation to help bolster the ranks of the tribal police department.