KGLP Slide Show

Monday, August 20, 2012

Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission

NNHRC's clients reveal one critical communication staple
SAINT MICHAELS, Navajo Nation--The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission learned
from their clients about the importance of one communication staple-the public
Public payphones still play a critical role in contacting the police and EMT services.

On Friday, August 10, 2012, NNHRC staff members met with the Interim District
Attorney Thomas Tapia and the Victim Advocate Sharon Valdez of the 13th Judicial
District Attorney's office, clients and their families to update everyone
collectively about their ongoing case, asserting their rights, and about the court
system in general at the Baca-Prewitt Chapter House in Prewitt, Navajo Nation

"While the Navajo victims were assured that there is progress in their cases,
information provided by the District Attorney's office also indicate significant
protection of the defendants' rights," said NNHRC Executive Director in an
interview. "Often times it appears to Navajo victims that the perpetrators have more
protection than they do."
Gorman explained that part of this understanding of the American judicial system is
the often anticipated outcome of a trail where a Navajo is the victim would entirely
lose faith in the judicial system by filling the system with continuances.

Tapia shared how competitive the court system is. He explained that being proactive
builds a stronger case in the competitive system.

In this case, proactive means taking ownership of issues that are raised.

A self-defeating cycle
"The other factor that the defendants rely on is the condition of the victims," said
Gorman. He continued and said, "These conditions often are the state of being unable
to productively contribute to the trial. The adage to the competitive and often
vicious cycle is the fact that when the defendants pled insanity they go through a
prolonged evaluation."

In this case, the perpetrator, Shawn Longoria, pled insanity and was evaluated over
a period of one year, causing the Navajo victims to increasingly question the
American judicial system.

Further, Tapia noted that as time passes, people who work in the court system are
likely to advance or move on in their careers, leaving victims with new and
unfamiliar case workers. Tapia also explained the non stop process of his extremely
busy office where a great majority of the cases relate to drugs and alcohol. He
reported a 90 percent conviction rate of cases which run the full procedural gamut
but that only 50 percent of cases actually do so.

NNHRC wants to ensure these victims' cases are not in jeopardy for failing to run
the full course of court procedures.

Each rescheduled hearing sends victims to return to their lives and in some cases
beaten again allegedly.

After the completion of presentations, a question and answer sessions opened.
"Where are the police?" One client, who attended the meeting, said, "Two of the
accused people who attacked us are involved in a homicide." In attempt to raise a
point, he questioned where the police were when needed and said, "When you don't
need them they're there."

The client explained how one person who lives on the street was cut by someone. A
police officer was not around he explained.

Tapia explained when incidents aren't reported to law enforcement, an investigation
cannot be conducted.

The client fired back and said, "There are no payphones in Grants. You have to have
a cell phone."

He doesn't have a cell phone.

Asserting rights
Another client changed the tone of the meeting and asked if a case goes to trial,
would they need to testify.

"Absolutely," said Tapia.

In response, the client said, "Where does our protection stand when we testify?"

Sharon Valdez explained to him to call the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and
her office.

The client who was concerned about his protection listened.

"I know that doesn't make you feel safe," said Valdez. "I know it's scary and I'm
not on the streets to protect you."

"We can't force you to testify. But we encourage you to," said Valdez.

After learning that all questions had been answered, Tapia said, "You call anytime.
I respect you greatly."

Without a way for victims to call law enforcement is a concern for the Navajo Nation
Human Rights Commission.

To break this questioning session, family members pled for their family members to
sober up. In their pleas, they explained who is solely responsible, the victims
In response, the client asking about his protection said, "I want to remind you that
even because they are drinking, they have rights."

Rights they have, asserts the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

What the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission significantly depends on is the roles
of family members. From a Navajo traditional perspective, family is a unit that
defies the desperate conditions the Navajo victims face in a border town. It is
within the Navajo family that the core traditional values of K'é and hozhoojí are
taught and nurtured with discipline.

NNHRC role
Valdez said, "I want to thank the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission for keeping
in contact with the victims." She continued and said to those who were present,
"They have been instrumental in keeping you updated with hearing dates. It is
unheard of to have this many victims and have current contact information."

NNHRC Investigator Varvara Phillips said, "We have a high volume of cases, too, and
it is important to be proactive in your case."

NNHRC with the MOU in place will address how to improve safety measures to City
officials including payphones or call boxes similar to ones on university campuses
across the nation in high crime related areas.

In the meantime, NNHRC urges family members to encourage victims to report incidents
to the police to help build their case. When a call is made to 911, remember to ask
for the dispatcher's name, write the time the call was made, and write how long it
takes for law enforcement to arrive for your documentation. Build a record.

Also, if citizens see any harm against anyone, report the incident to the police.

NNHRC sends their appreciation to the Baca-Prewitt Chapter staff members for their
assistance in hosting the meeting.


Rachelle Todea, Public Information Officer
Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission
P.O. Box 1689
Window Rock, Navajo Nation (AZ)  86515

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