US attorney in NM hiring tribal prosecutor to deal with domestic crime

US attorney in NM hiring tribal prosecutor to deal with domestic crime

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The statistics are staggering, but far from new: Three-fifths of Native women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners and one-third of Indian women will be raped during their lifetimes.

In some tribal areas, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average, according to figures from Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women.

But after years of what some Indian women’s rights activists say has largely been a lack of inaction by the authorities, U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales is set to announce the hiring of a tribal prosecutor as special assistant U.S. attorney focused almost exclusively on domestic and sexual assaults on tribal lands in New Mexico.

It’s part of a pilot program by the Office of Violence Against Woman, Gonzales’ office said, that will give funding for the new prosecutors to a handful of U.S. attorneys around the country.

“I think a lot of people will be pleased to see this,” said Corrine Sanchez of Tewa Women United, an intertribal group that was started as support group for women concerned about issues that include the high rates of domestic and sexual crimes. “There is still such a huge lack of prosecution on the U.S. attorney’s side on sexual assaults.”

Likewise, she said, there is a lack of tribal resources to deal with the crimes, mistrust among victims and the complications all victims face when they are assaulted or abused by a family member or loved one.

“It’s a multi-layered issue,” she said. “Because there has been this lack of response there is still a mistrust to report. People feel nothing is being done.”

In an interview last week, Gonzales said that the funding is still being finalized but he plans to announce next month the hiring of David Adams, the tribal prosecutor for the Laguna Pueblo west of Albuquerque.

Adams, he said, will work with tribal authorities as well social service groups to improve law enforcement’s response to domestic crimes and to try and change the culture of how such crimes have been treated.

“We are talking about a long history of this kind of violence and an unwillingness of victims to report it,” Gonzales said.

Adams will retain his title as a tribal prosecutor, but he will be deputized as a special U.S.district attorney with all the powers that accompany that position.

Although funded at the national level, Adam’s hiring fits with a broader focus by Gonzales — who was appointed to the top federal law enforcement job in New Mexico just over a year ago — to “empower communities” to fight crime, whether it be rampant heroin use in Espanola or drugs, cash and gun smuggling across the border.

Gonzales says that in addition to being more aggressive in battling domestic and sexual crimes on tribal lands, he has tasked his prosecutors to work more closely with local enforcement agencies to use federal laws against gang leaders and other dangerous criminals when federal law has the potential to bring more serious penalties in a case.

“We have much more meaningful consequences on the federal side than states have,” he said.

“It’s not what we have in mind for every gang banger out there … but when you can take one or two (gang leaders) out of a small community it can have a big impact.”

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