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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


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Juvenile Injustice

by Ruth Steinberger, Native Times

Note: We, at Canku Ota, don't often run articles like this one. But, because we are working for the future of our children, we feel that Adelia's story needs to be told. Sadly, she is one of many who are victims of a system that is clearly flawed.

"The Dakota word for children - wakaneja - means sacred people. That's how we as a people feel about our youth. But this perspective is not heard in a courtroom, where Indians are looked upon as troublemakers." Darlene Pipeboy

Prison  Yard Fencing

Juvenile corrections experts, youth advocates and tribal members from across South Dakota were pleased by a recent juvenile court decision that moved Adelia Godfrey, a 17 year old Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota youth from a windowless cell in the basement of the Grant County, SD jail to a juvenile facility in Fargo, ND. Many people watching juvenile justice issues are questioning how the Indian youth, whose arguably most serious crime was a traffic incident, could be facing 30 years in an adult prison. Now transferred to a youth facility in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Godfrey awaits a hearing on March 26, 2002.

Though Prosecutor Kay Nicolas claims that the charges and her desire to transfer the case to adult court are not race based, many tribal members believe otherwise. In fact, the Roberts County Prosecutors Office cannot confirm one case of a white youth being tried as an adult there, even when a fatality was involved. Numerous Indian youth have been waived to adult court by the Roberts County Prosecutors Office, and two high profile cases from that office were the subject of testimony offered before the US Civil Rights Commission in 1999.

In September, 2001, Godfrey was arrested on misdemeanor traffic charges. Officer Mark Marte recognized Adelia as she parked in front of her home. Knowing she had no license, he pulled up and told her to get out of the car, that he was taking her to jail. She refused, asking him to wake her parents to say he was taking her to jail. He refused. She panicked and started the car. Marte pursued the girl in his car, allegedly pulling his car closer as she sped up in fear of being hit by him. Neighbors listening to the scanner allege that the dispatcher instructed Marte not to pursue the girl, however he continued the chase until an accident occurred. Godfrey was charged with multiple traffic violations. This was the second time Officer Marte induced a high speed chase with an Indian youth over minor infractions.

Adelia Godfrey was sentenced to 30 days and was required to turn herself in. Held in a basement cell of a local jail referred to as the "dungeon" by deputies, she was under surveillance cameras 24 hours a day. Godfrey began to have panic attacks and told her mother, "The next time you see me might be to identify my body." She told her mother, Shirley Duggan, she was unable to sleep and was afraid she couldn't breath. Her mother said that her condition worsened daily. Following an incident in which she allegedly sprayed a fire extinguisher at deputies, Kay Nicolas said she would make every effort to charge Adelia Godfrey as an adult with two counts of assault for her the behavior toward the officers. No one was injured in the incident except for one officer who went to the hospital for a rash. The charges could carry a sentence of 30 years incarceration.

Following an outcry after an article on the girl's situation appeared in the Argus Leader, Adelia was quickly transferred to a juvenile facility in Fargo, North Dakota.

This is not the first time that Kay Nicolas, Robert's County Prosecutor, has made efforts to place Adelia, the daughter of an Indian activist, in an adult prison. In 1999 when Adelia was 15, a misunderstanding occurred the night after her parents called the police while looking for her. Not realizing the police had not been notified that the girl had come home, the next night Adelia and others were given money to go to a movie. A local officer saw the girls. Thinking that Adelia was a runaway, the officer attempted to arrest her. When she asked that the police call her parents instead of arresting her on a misunderstanding, the request was refused. She argued and other youth stated she was then slammed against a wall by two police officers. When she put her legs up to block her face from hitting the wall, she was accused of resisting arrest. Though it was the first time the girl ever appeared in court, Prosecutor Kay Nicolas wanted her tried as an adult and offered a plea agreement that would have sent the girl to an adult prison for six years. Kay Nicolas claimed that the girl had scratched a police officer, however no medical treatment had been required. Several eyewitnesses stated the girl had been handled violently by the officers, and her actions were to prevent herself from injury. Although the girl was arrested for no actual incident except the result of the misunderstanding, Nicolas aggressively tried to have the trial transferred to adult court, a request denied by the judge. No investigation into the police violence used against her occurred.

Adelia Godfrey was then remanded to Department Of Corrections custody and was sent to the infamous, and now closed, youth facility in Plankinton, SD. Then Director Clay Ramsey allegedly told Godfrey's mother Shirley Duggan that paperwork received from Nicolas office was the reason that Adelia was held in solitary confinement for two weeks. The girl was allowed to wear only a paper gown. Refused utensils, Adelia was forced to eat with her fingers and was forced to sleep on a concrete slab on the floor with no blanket or pillow. She was four pointed repeatedly, a procedure where youth were placed in chains that were attached to the floor and their clothes were cut off while they lay on a concrete slab. Guards were instructed to video any incident of restraints being placed on a child. According to Adelia, on one occasion a male guard instructed the female guard running the camera to turn off the camera, the female guard did so and the male guard punched Adelia in the mouth with his fist. When the camera rolled again, it showed Adelia screaming about being hit and the male guard saying, "You know I wouldn't hit you, Adelia." Guards were instructed not to speak with her. Clay Ramsey told Duggan this was based upon their "policies".

Ultimately, Adelia was one of several girls who cut their wrists one night.

Sicangu Activist Alfred Bone Shirt commented, "Whether she slashed her wrists as a child, or went on a hunger strike as an adult, she was calling attention to the atrocious way she and the others were being treated. If a human being is held incommunicado like that, especially a child, this will happen. Calling her mentally ill, or suicidal, is another form of racism…the treatment of these kids is what is crazy, not the kids themselves. When you abuse youth like this, this behavior is what you get. If things were handled professionally, this wouldn't happen."

Director Clay Ramsey had no education, training or background qualifying him to run the facility. He resigned after the death of 14 year old Gina Score, who died following heat prostration during forced exercise at the youth boot camp. According to testimony, Ramsey denied her medical care while she lay on the ground for three hours before dying. When Shirley Duggan tried to discuss the "policies" that were emotionally and physically brutalizing her 15 year old daughter, Ramsey was totally indifferent. Duggan contacted South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett to discuss the highly unusual treatment of youth at the facility. Barnett contemptuously asked her who she would contact next. Within six months, Gina Score had died and South Dakota was the target of several successful lawsuits, including one filed by the Youth Law Center of Washington, DC. The state has spent millions of dollars defending itself and on settlements. Lawsuits against the state are still pending. Godfrey was released in March, 2000.

At this time, Adelia Godfrey is one of six Indian youth named as Plaintiffs in a civil suit against the state based on the treatment at Plankinton. DOC Director Jeff Bloomberg is a Defendant in the suit. Duggan wonders if the aggressive prosecution of Adelia is retribution for the suit, which highlights the treatment of Indian youth in state custody in South Dakota.

During the time Adelia was at Plankinton, questions regarding the Roberts County Prosecutors Office surfaced. Shirley Duggan was one of many Indians who wanted to know why a white youth who killed an Indian was treated with leniency while an Indian youth involved in a fatal accident was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In 1999, four youth in a pick up truck ran over and killed Justin Redday, an Indian. The 19 year old driver, a white youth who was intoxicated at the time of the accident, was tried as a juvenile. Charged with only a drunk driving offense, he served less than six months in detention. His truck was never impounded by authorities. No charges were ever filed over the death of Redday. Shortly before that, Melanie Seaboy, an 18 year old Indian student was getting ready to enter college when she was in a head on collision with a white driver who was killed. Seaboy, with no prior problems with the law, was prosecuted for vehicular homicide by the same prosecutors office. She was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. While the white youth who killed an Indian while driving drunk served less than six months, the Indian youth who killed an white driver was charged as an adult and is serving a 14 1/2 year sentence.

Nicolas' Office has consistently denied any racial prejudice in the vastly different handling of the two cases.

Duggan and others organized protests against the treatment of the Redday case. Shirley Duggan said, "They send our kids to prison early, but there was no question on that one. Kay Nicolas was not going to charge that boy as adult after Justin died."

These high profile cases were brought before the US Civil Rights Commission and are published in the reports from December, 1999 hearings.

According to a study completed by Youth Law Center titled Building Blocks for Youth , minority youth are "waived" to adult courts at a rate far exceeding that of white youth. Youth sentenced to adult facilities are five times more likely to be victimized by violence within the prison and are eight times more likely to attempt suicide. Comparison of Adelia's case with that of non-Indians is consistent with the findings of Building Blocks for Youth. Rather than being offered access to community supervision or treatment programs, Godfrey is being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for relatively minor offenses.

Jennifer Ring, Director of ACLU of the Dakotas said, "It is utterly ridiculous for this small of an offense to be causing a kid to be looking at loosing 30 years of her life. She overreacted to the police and frankly I suspect the police overreacted to her, but given her history with the state it is not surprising she overreacted to the state. We don't generally think this is what happens. Usually we think about moving kids to adult court when they commit crimes like murder, rape and armed robbery. We don't usually move youth to adult court because they got into a wrestling match with an arresting officer. And given the history of her case, it looks like the jurisdiction has wanted to move her to adult court for years for no real apparent reason. It's illogical."

Building Blocks for Youth
Building Blocks for Youth is an alliance of children's advocates, researchers, law enforcement professionals and community organizers that seeks to protect minority youth in the justice system and promote rational and effective justice policies.

National Juvenile Court Data Archive
The National Juvenile Court Data Archive (Archive) houses the automated records of cases handled by courts with juvenile jurisdiction. The Archive was established by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, within the US Department of Justice, to promote access to automated juvenile court data sets for juvenile justice research and policymaking efforts. This web site was developed to inform researchers about the available data sets and the procedures for use and access.

Statistical Briefing Book
The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book provides basic information on juvenile crime and victimization and on youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Data in the content areas below provide timely and reliable statistical answers to the most frequently asked questions of policymakers, the media, and the general public.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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