The U.S. Attorney's Office in Montana declined to pursue a civil rights case before an investigation into the so-called "wino roundup" was completed on the Fort Peck Reservation, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In July 2013, tribal police gathered up at least 15 people viewed as panhandlers and "street people" in Wolf Point and held them without charges during the annual Wild Horse Stampede.
An investigation by the Internal Affairs Division of the BIA found negligent and careless acts on behalf of tribal officials and sustained accusations that the detainees' civil rights were violated.
In addition to launching an Internal Affairs investigation, the BIA alerted the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Montana, according to a BIA spokeswoman. While the investigation was still ongoing, federal prosecutors declined to take action.
"On March 7, 2014, the USAO (U.S. Attorney's Office) informed the FBI that it did not see any criminal civil rights violations at that time in relation to the events described," said BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling in an email response to The Gazette.
In March 2014, the BIA Internal Affairs Division was still investigating the roundup. The final report was finished in October 2014 and released the following year.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. An FBI spokesman declined comment as well.
It's unclear if the U.S. Attorney's Office plans to revisit the case. In January, former U.S. Attorney for Montana Mike Cotter announced the designation of a special prosecutor for civil rights cases.
It's also unclear from the BIA report who gave the order to round up people prior to the Stampede. A tribal Law and Order Committee discussed the issue at a meeting, but the committee made no official order.
For Peck Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure has denied involvement in the roundup, saying he was out of state at the time and had no control over the matter.
The BIA investigator noted in her report that efforts to contact Azure were unsuccessful. Azure said on Wednesday that he never heard from the investigator.
“I don’t give a sh-- what the report says," he said. "They didn’t contact me. They didn’t interview me or anything.”
Mike Headdress, who was a captain of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes Department of Law and Justice at the time, has also denied parts of the BIA report. He's now an associate judge in the Fort Peck Tribal Court system.
According to the BIA report, Headdress contacted tribal corrections officials about carrying out the roundup. A tribal prosecutor, Adrienne Weinberger, told the BIA investigator that she protested the roundup of "street people" to Headdress.
Headdress briefly spoke to the BIA investigator, according to the report. He said the roundup came from a tribal council directive, and he didn't see a problem with the short detention, although no criminal charges were filed.
On Wednesday, Headdress said that was false.
“They have me as an interview," he said. "No. not at all. I never did an interview.”
Darling, the BIA spokeswoman, said on Friday that the investigator interviewed Headdress by phone on Nov. 13, 2013, and that he later declined a request for a second interview.
Headdress described the roundup as a brief and legal detention. He said that officers gave the "panhandlers" warnings to leave the area. When they didn't, Headdress said they were detained for detoxification.
“They were warned and they came back," he said. "That’s why they got arrested.”
Fort Peck tribal law does have a provision for the involuntary commitment of an intoxicated person, though only in an emergency. The law requires a report and health examinations.
The only report cited in the BIA investigation was an "Operation Stampede 24 Hour Hold" jail roster, which named the people who were detained.
What isn't in dispute is that people were detained prior to the Stampede and held without charges. Azure wrote in a letter to The Billings Gazette that the Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation regret the incident.
But while the BIA found evidence that those people's civil rights were violated, no consequences have come to any official. A lawsuit that was filed on behalf of the detainees dissolved after the attorney failed to keep in contact with the plaintiffs.
Mary Cleland, a lay advocate for the Fort Peck Tribal Courts, said she's still working with some of the plaintiffs on another legal fight. She said in September that she hoped federal prosecutors would step in to help the detainees.
"To me, there's no justice in Montana civil rights," she said. "Because where is the U.S. Attorney's Office? Who got arrested for making color of law violations?"