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Utes Want Answers in Decade-Old Shooting

Utes Want Answers in Decade-Old Shooting
July 14
15:24 2017


A decade ago a young Ute tribal member was killed – and the tribe has never been able to get the full story. But a new unanimous ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of appeals may be a first step toward the truth.

The 10th Circuit decreed that three non-Native American police officers involved in the 2007 death of 21-year-old Todd Rory Murray must respond to a trespass claim filed against them in tribal court.

However, it’s not a clear win for the tribe.

The federal court stops short of saying the three police officers are bound by any tribal court decision – only that they must “exhaust” all tribal remedies before the case can be removed from tribal jurisdiction.

The officers pursued Murray onto the Ute reservation, even though they had no jurisdiction there. Murray ended up shot in the head and a medical examiner ruled that the youth had committed suicide.

The family is not so sure.

They believe he was murdered by a former Vernal, Utah officer who admitted firing his handgun.

While tribes have only limited jurisdiction over non-natives on their reservations, the appeals court found that the officers’ actions could pose a threat to the Utes’ tribal sovereignty.

Not only did the officers enter the reservation without tribal consent, but they blocked a tribal officer from examining the scene where Murray died.

“Thus, in addition to impinging upon a ‘hallmark of Indian sovereignty’ by trespassing, the officers colorably threatened the ‘political integrity’ of the tribe by improperly asserting their own authority as superior to that of a tribal official on tribal lands,” Judge Carlos F. Lucero wrote.

The 10th Circuit’s ruling mirrors one by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by challenges the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2001 Nevada v. Hicks decision.

In that ruling the Supreme Court decided that tribes had no jurisdiction over state officials doing their jobs – even on reservation land.

Tribal leaders feared that could lead to state officials coming onto tribal lands without fear of accountability.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia was willing to go further than that – he questioned tribes having jurisdiction over any non-Indian on their reservations.

Nor will the family have an easy time in proving any claims against the three officers.

The gun that Murray allegedly used to kill himself has since been destroyed.



 Featured Photo: An old photograph of Ute Tribe members



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