Murder of 5 people on Indian reservation underscores violent crime challenge

In February 2018, leaders of the Yakama Nation faced what they called a public safety crisis at its sprawling reservation in central Washington state.

The tribal council said it faced an “epidemic of drug use, a scourge of criminal activity, disregard for the rule of law and general civil unrest” across the reservation, between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River. . In response, the council imposed a daily curfew for youths, set up a 24-hour hotline to report crimes, and toughened penalties for assault and robbery.

When five people were killed on the reservation near the White Swan community on Saturday, it once again underscored the tribe’s challenges with violent crime. On Monday, two people suspected in the murders were charged with related crimes.

Public documents did not indicate that anyone had been charged in the murders.

Efforts to reach members of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council were unsuccessful on Tuesday evening. Yakama Nation Tribal Police did not respond to a request for comment.

Tribes across the United States have long struggled with crime, said Sarah Deer, a University of Kansas professor and expert on violence on reservations. According to the National Congress of American Indians, the rate of aggravated assault among Native people is about double that of the country as a whole.

Professor Deer said tackling crime can be complicated because the skills of state and federal authorities are sometimes limited, while tribal law enforcement often lacks the resources to keep communities safe.

“There is historical trauma that people have gone through,” Professor Deer said. “There is a long legacy of violence – this is how reservations were created, because tribes were forced to abandon their lands.”

On Saturday, authorities first received a call that someone was shooting at a car around 4 p.m., said Lt. Aaron Wuitschick of the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. He said deputies found three people in a car with another deceased person. People said they were walking away from a nearby house where several others had been killed, Lt. Wuitschick said.

When deputies arrived at the house in a rural, desolate part of the reservation, they found four people who had been fatally shot. On Tuesday, the Yakima County coroner identified the victims as Catherine Eneas, 49; Dennis Overacker, 61; Michelle Starnes, 51; and Thomas Hernandez, 36. The name of the fifth victim, the individual found in the car, has not been released.

After locating the victims at the home, authorities received a report of a carjacking at a nearby home. Two gunmen showed up at the house, and one of them pointed a gun at a child’s head before stealing a car, authorities said.

The FBI, which is investigating Saturday’s killings, identified the pair in court documents Monday as James Dean Cloud and Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud, members of the Yakama Nation, saying it believed the two men were also responsible for the murders at home.

While the FBI said it has two men in custody in connection with the murders, it’s unclear whether anyone has been charged with those crimes. James Dean Cloud and Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud were charged Monday with assault with a deadly weapon. They were indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday for forcibly taking a motor vehicle and carjacking.

A lawyer for James Dean Cloud could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. It wasn’t immediately clear if Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud had an attorney.

Lt. Wuitschick referred further questions about the case to the FBI, which did not respond to questions Tuesday evening, saying it would release more information in the coming days.

Nohemi M. Moore