Mr. Sullivan’s most recent letter to his superiors in Washington DC… please spread far and wide –
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Sullivan, Thomas (ACF)
Subject: Spirit Lake
To: “Mcmullen, Marrianne (ACF)”
Cc: “Chang, Joo Yeun (ACF)”
December 19, 2013
In my First Mandated Report of suspected Child Abuse on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota, filed more than 18 months ago, I wrote, “The children of the Spirit Lake Reservation are being subjected to actual abuse or the threat of such abuse due to the actions and inactions of adults who have responsibility to protect them from such abuse. These adults include their parents, neighbors, community leaders, Tribal program staff and directors, Tribal Council members, federal and state program leaders who have been notified and allowed the following conditions to persist. Thus, due to their inaction and excuses in some cases they have played an active role in fostering the development of conditions here.”
My fervent hope was that such a Report would lead to the development of a broad-based collaborative effort of tribal, state and federal agencies working with Spirit Lake community members as well as the private sector for the purpose of addressing the specific issues I had identified as well as all others that would emerge as we moved these Spirit Lake children to safety.
A collaborative effort did emerge not for the purpose I had expected but in defense of the status quo. That collaboration has devoted its’ energies against those of us who have spoken up about the problems at Spirit Lake. My sources and I have been subjected to an unremitting campaign of lies and threats. We have been treated as pariahs, outcasts, unfit to be heard or seen in polite society, fair game for whatever outrageous lies our opponents wish to spin. Those responsible for this campaign have tried to remain anonymous, relying on the spoken word in most cases, but some few have had the courage to emerge from the shadows and reveal themselves
All of our allegations have been in writing submitted through formal channels. The lies and threats have been, in most cases, made verbally and have been dropped into conversations so as to poison the minds of those who know little about conditions in Indian Country or Spirit Lake and who are too busy/lazy to dig into the facts of this case. These lies and threats have been calculated in every case to minimize the impact of the detailed factual Reports we have placed on the record. In practically every case when a source of these false statements has been publicly identified, I have written to them requesting a copy of their documentation of my “errors” so that I might correct the public record. None have been provided even though up to 16 months have elapsed since those requests were first made. This is quite surprising since I have made these written requests to the former TSS Director, BIA spokeswoman Darling, former Tribal Chair Yankton, US Attorney Purdon, former ACF Acting Assistant Secretary Sheldon and ACF Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs Mcmullen.
Why should I risk my well-known reputation for integrity and accomplishment built over more than 45 years of service in the public and private sectors by lying about conditions at Spirit Lake?
I am deeply committed to seeing the unspeakable child abuse at Spirit Lake stopped. That is my only motivation.
As a result of these efforts to minimize the impact of our reports more than 100 American Indian children at Spirit Lake remain in the full time care and custody of sexual predators, available to be raped daily.
Who, among you, wants that crime to continue?
If you want it to stop, why are you establishing committees and study groups, delaying the movement of these children to safety for years?
If you want to stop it, just stop it!
There are an extraordinary number of contradictory statements made by those who oppose our efforts to assist the children of Spirit Lake to get into safe homes. There are essentially two types of contradiction in the following 9 examples. First, where two senior leaders of an agency or of different agencies take positions that are diametrically opposed to one another (Items # 1 and 4 fall into this category). Second, when agency leadership claims in broad general terms that everything has been solved and, by the way, many of those allegations were just exaggerations and an enrolled member or other informed citizen objects and factually challenges these claims (Items #2, 3 and 5-9 fall into this second category). The following brief examples outline these nine contradictions:
- 1. On October 11, 2012 Acting Assistant Secretary Sheldon was in Denver for a brief visit to the Region. He spent a great deal of time telling me that I was being too hard on all those involved with the Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services program and that he had been assured by the Washington, DC leaders of the BIA and the Children’s Bureau that great progress had been made since I filed my first report, four months earlier. During that conversation, I responded to Mr. Sheldon’s claims with half a dozen examples of egregious systemic failures at Spirit Lake in the two weeks prior to his visit where children were being endangered by placing them in the care and custody of abusive parents or foster parents. He was unmoved by my examples that came directly from my sources living and working on Spirit Lake.
On November 5, 2012, less than 4 weeks after that discussion with Mr. Sheldon, then Spirit Lake Tribal Chair Roger Yankton was asked, during a General Assembly, by an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Nation, “Are there any lies in Mr. Sullivan’s Reports?” Mr. Yankton’s response was, “No, there are none.” He was then asked, “Do you have any proof that the conditions those children are living in and which are cited by Mr. Sullivan have improved?” Mr. Yankton’s response to this question was, “No, there has been no change.” Chairman Yankton’s statements were made almost five full months after I started filing my Mandated Reports, after seven of my Reports had been submitted. These seven Reports contained 90 – 95% of an unduplicated count of the factual allegations I have made.
I reported this exchange at the General Assembly to Mr. Sheldon but never received any word from him indicating he had changed his mind from what he had expressed on October 11, 2012. To most readers, however, the contradiction should be obvious.
2. In the November 4, 2012 issue, the Fargo Forum quoted BIA spokeswoman, Nedra Darling as saying, “The BIA is working hard to ….protect the youngest and most vulnerable members of Indian Country.”
How does that statement square with Spirit Lake Tribal Chairman Yankton’s statement one day later that he knew of no change in the conditions about which I had been complaining in my Reports during the prior five months?
A recent article from the October 28, 2013 issue of the Grand Forks Herald is even more damning of the BIA’s failures at Spirit Lake, “Lolly Diaz, a former member of the Spirit Lake social services board said there is little evidence of improvement since the BIA took the lead on child protection and foster placement. ‘Nothing has changed from putting it over to the BIA’, Diaz said. ‘There really isn’t any difference in my opinion. They’re on a revolving door basis’, she added, referring to BIA staff brought in to help. ‘We don’t have anybody permanent here.’
In the last few days the following situation has been brought to my attention by a former TSS staff member who lives in close proximity to the Spirit Lake Reservation: a 13 year old little girl is staying with her grandmother approximately 80% of the time. Another relative an adult male also lives with the grandmother. This male is a registered, violent sex offender. The conduct of the 13 year old has been regressing and she has apparently told her non-custodial father that she is being sexually abused by this registered sex offender. The father has gone to BIA, TSS, Tribal Court and the Tribal Chair to complain about his daughter’s placement. He has been told by the BIA that it will be at least 30 days before they can even initiate an investigation.
How many of us would be satisfied with Ms. Darling’s “working hard” when we understood it really meant at least a 30 day delay before any action would be taken to protect our 13 year old little girl from a vicious sexual predator?
3. Ms. Darling in her November 4, 2012 comments to the press is quoted as saying, “The BIA maintains standards of professionalism and public safety…..” and “the highest levels of integrity and accountability of its employees.”
Despite these claims the BIA ignored the domestic violence of their senior criminal investigator at Spirit Lake for more than a year even though during this time he mercilessly beat his wife on several occasions. Each of these occasions was public, known all across the Reservation and known to the former BIA Superintendent as well as to his Deputy (the current BIA superintendent). None of these people did anything to protect this defenseless woman from these beatings. When a friend of mine placed the victim’s affidavit into the hands of the number 2 person in BIA Law Enforcement in Washington, DC, BIA still did nothing.
How do these actions up and down the chain of command in BIA contribute to the “highest levels of integrity and accountability of its employees”?
4. Acting Assistant Secretary Sheldon in his April 15, 2013 letters praised both the BIA and DOJ for their efforts to address the situation at Spirit Lake and essentially condemned me for incorporating my “… own personal views” and that “those views might be misinterpreted or misreported as those of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) or the Department of Health and Human Services.” Mr. Sheldon went on, “after evaluating your reports, the Department does not share your view that the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the United States Attorney’s Office have (sic) been derelict in their duties….. We know that improvements have been made.”
In mid-August, 2013, you, Ms. Mcmullen, in a telephone conversation with one of my sources, Ms. Betty Jo Krenz, who was complaining about ACF’s refusal to allow me to attend a meeting in Bismarck, ND later that week said, “I don’t understand what could be gained by another meeting. We’ve been in meetings at Spirit Lake for two years and have seen little or no progress.” When I asked for a clarification four months ago, in late August, 2013, of the contradiction between these two positions, I was greeted with total silence.
When I asked both the Acting Assistant Secretary and you, Ms. McMullen for the factual basis for those April 15 letters, I have been stonewalled. Nothing has been provided. Perhaps that is because there is no factual basis for those conclusions. Given the facts on the record, however, most readers will agree there is a basic contradiction between what you said in August to Ms. Krenz and the letters, Acting Assistant Secretary Sheldon sent to me, Ms. Settles and Mr. Purdon on April 15, 2013, a contradiction that ACF leadership seems unwilling or unable to explain, despite my continuing requests for an explanation.
5. On June 19, 2012 in response to my First Mandated Report, Mr. Purdon, the US Attorney for North Dakota wrote, “the United States Attorney’s Office in North Dakota shares your concern for the safety of Native children as can be seen in our strong track record of prosecuting and convicting the hands-on perpetrators of abuse and neglect on the reservations in North Dakota.” When I read those words I was impressed and hopeful
Hopeful, that is, until I reviewed the record of charges filed, indictments sought, plea deals made, trials and convictions for child sexual abuse originating from the Spirit Lake Reservation and could find only 2 cases in the last 25 months. I have been told that in most recent years there have been on average 50 cases of child sexual abuse per year reported, investigated and confirmed by child protection workers on Spirit Lake and referred to the FBI or US Attorney’s office for criminal investigation and prosecution.
That dismal record of only two cases of child sexual abuse from Spirit Lake in a 25 month period can be explained best, I believe, by the alleged rape of a 12 year old little girl who had just turned 13 on September 29, 2012, who was home alone when a 38 year old male friend of her mother’s stopped by and raped her. (This account of what happened to this little girl was provided by an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Nation.) She called the police who, when they responded were given the alleged rapist’s name, address and physical description. BIA police did not take a rape kit. BIA police did not question the suspect for three weeks at which time he told them that, “She wanted to have sex with me. What was I supposed to do?” It was bad enough that the BIA police swallowed this line but so did the FBI and US Attorney Purdon. When statutory rape occurs in this manner with such an age discrepancy and these are the standards applied to determine whether to prosecute or not, it is remarkable that any child sexual abuse cases made it into Court during the last 25 months.
On February 27, 2013 US Attorney Purdon made the following statement, as told to me by an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Nation who attended that Hearing, in a public meeting on the Spirit Lake Reservation, “Many of Sullivan’s allegations are just false.” Since he had never communicated such a view to me or to my sources, I immediately, that day, requested by email that he give me the courtesy of identifying which of my allegations were, in his words, “just false”. Now almost ten months later I await the documentation of his otherwise slanderous, self-serving characterization of my Reports.
6. Both the BIA and US Attorney claim in many public statements that every allegation I have surfaced has been investigated. When I use the term “investigated” here, I assume this means that interviews with complainants and witnesses have been conducted, evidence has been gathered, reports filed with an appropriate supervisor and a determination made, based on that record, whether to recommend further legal action. I also assume that records of each investigation would be available for review by an appropriate independent, properly qualified reviewer.
I have listed below ten possible crimes reported to the BIA and US Attorney which, if they have been investigated, that has been done privately without the benefit of interviewing those who were responsible for filing those complaints.
Why has there been no investigation of my 14 month old complaint filed against FBI Special Agent Cima?
Why has there been no investigation of the 15 month old charges of Domestic Violence against BIA’s Senior Criminal Investigator at Spirit Lake by his wife?
Why has there been no investigation into the destruction of the Incident Report completed by the CI’s wife in the Devils Lake Mercy Hospital Emergency Room after a particularly vicious beating at the CI’s hands in mid-August, 2012 by the former Director of the Spirit Lake Victim Assistance Program?
Why has there been no investigation of the complete and total failure of the state, FBI and BIA to investigate charges that were credibly brought several years ago against each of these entities?
Why has there been no investigation into the withholding of critically needed intensive rehabilitative services from several Spirit Lake children who have been sexually abused and severely beaten? If the purpose of preventing these children from gaining access to this therapy is to prevent the names of their predators who damaged these children from being revealed to professionals who have a legal obligation to make this information known to law enforcement, is this obstruction of justice? If it is, the entire leadership of the BIA Strike team should be indicted.
Why has there been no investigation into the Spirit Lake school system’s retaliatory actions against two mandated reporters – firing one and giving the other a letter of reprimand, simply because they were attempting to help a young child having difficulties in his foster home placement?
The Tribal Elder who observed two little boys engaging in anal sex in her yard called police immediately when she observed this behavior. No one in law enforcement took her statement. She tried to tell her story at the February 27, 2013 Hearing but she was shushed by US Attorney Purdon, the BIA leadership and all those on the platform. The US Attorney did say publicly he would speak to her privately after the Hearing concluded. He did not. Nor did anyone from his office take her statement. Why has there been no investigation into this complete failure of law enforcement in this particular case at Spirit Lake?
One day later, on February 28, 2013, these same two boys were observed by two little girls engaging in oral sex on a Spirit Lake School Bus. The little girls reported this to the bus driver, their teachers and the school principal. All of these supposedly responsible people said and did nothing about this incident. None of them filed a Form 960 as required. Why has there been no investigation into the failures of these adults to fulfill their responsibilities? What else are they failing to do?
Why has there been no investigation of the decision to place a four month old, previously meth-addicted infant in the unsupervised full time care and custody of her meth-addicted mother. The mother had been required to complete a lengthy drug treatment program with periodic, unannounced testing to make sure she was still not using. She never completed that treatment program and refused to take any tests during it. Despite these facts this infant was returned to her full time care and custody by the Tribal Court.
Why has there been no investigation of the unexplained removal of a child from her mother’s home without cause in December, 2012, the perjured, sworn testimony of the BIA Social Worker self-identified as Gabrielle who swore that she had sought kinship care but could not find any kin willing to take this child. This child’s aunt is Ms. Molly McDonald, former Tribal Judge and one of my sources, and her grandfather is Leander McDonald, current Tribal Chair. Neither was contacted by this or any other BIA social worker. When this child was finally returned in April, 2013 her mother was told that she was prohibited from speaking to her aunt, my source, Ms. Molly McDonald. Why is the BIA resorting to such tactics? Is there some fear that the truth might emerge?
All of the information in these accounts of possible criminal activity which has not been investigated at Spirit Lake have been provided by sources who are enrolled members or former employees with close ties to a large number of enrolled residents of Spirit Lake.
The bias reflected in all of these non-investigations at Spirit Lake may well rise to the standard set by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in their decision in the Oravec case.
7. On June 27, 2013, a meeting was convened in Bismarck, ND in the offices of Scott Davis, Indian Affairs Commissioner for the state of North Dakota. The meeting was attended by Mr. Davis, congressional staff from the offices of the two senators and one representative and a delegation of enrolled members from the Spirit Lake Nation, including several Elders, former Tribal Judges, a former Tribal Chair and several former Council members.During the meeting Mr. Davis made several derogatory remarks about me and the Reports I had been filing. Mr. Davis has never made any attempt to me to speak with me or to discuss my Reports with me.
Ms. Molly McDonald, a former Spirit Lake Tribal Judge challenged Mr. Davis on his derogatory remarks about me. She said, “I have never met Tom Sullivan but he is the only fed we trust. After more than five years of complaining about conditions at Spirit Lake to tribal, state and federal government officials who did nothing in response to our complaints, he is the only one who returned our calls. What is in his reports are our stories told to him by us, faithfully recorded and reported by him. Tom Sullivan is the only one we trust in government at any level.” I am not aware of any response from Mr. Davis to Ms. McDonald.
Mr. Davis is a good example of those who have libeled and slandered me. They have never met me and apparently have not read my on-line bio available at the ACF Region 8 web site. Clearly most have done little more than skim thru my 13 Reports about Spirit Lake, if they have done even that. None have sought me out to discuss the basis for my strongly held opinions about the unacceptable treatment of so many Native American children at Spirit Lake. For many, like Mr. Davis, those children seem to be an after-thought.
8. I believe the highest obligation for every adult, whether working for government or not, who is aware of this situation is to insure the safety of those children who were abruptly removed from safe, off-reservation placements and returned to on-reservation placements in many cases to the full-time care and custody of known sex offenders where they were available to be raped daily as well as those children placed in unsafe homes in the care of addicts and abusers as a result of decisions made by BIA, TSS and Tribal Court.
The leadership of my agency has instructed me that my belief that the safety of those children is paramount in this matter does not reflect the policy position of either my agency or my department. Despite my request for the Agency’s and Department’s policy in these circumstances, no one in that leadership has provided any information on what that is.
From what my sources and I have experienced during the last 18 months the highest priority of the state, the FBI, BIA as well as other federal agencies has been to silence us, to label us as liars, as incompetents not qualified to identify the abuse of a child, to minimize the seriousness of this situation with their fabricated, self-serving claims. Among those claims are, “It’s a new problem.”; “This problem arose because the Tribe lost the person responsible for filing their forms.”; “If those whistleblowers would shut up everything would be fine.”; “Everything is fine.”; “They are making great progress.”; “You are expecting too much progress too quickly.”; “They are working hard.”; “it’s all fixed.”; “We’re doing a great job for kids.”; “You are not a subject matter expert.”
None of these claims were true when spoken. None are true now.
If that self-serving approach were held by those who served on the Grand Jury that indicted Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, there would have been no indictments. It would have been decided that none of the witnesses against Sandusky were credible because Jerry would have told the Grand Jury all of those witnesses were lying and they would have believed him.
Are the children of State College, PA more deserving of protection from child rape than the American Indian children of Spirit Lake, ND? If not, why the lengthy delay in rescuing the children of Spirit Lake from their rapists?
It appears that every agency involved with Spirit Lake has elected to follow a path that leaves young, defenseless children in the full-time care and custody of addicts and sexual predators rather than getting these children into safe homes as quickly as possible. In doing this, these agencies and their actions track the same path followed by the leadership of both Penn State and the Catholic Church when these organizations sought to protect their institution’s reputation by covering up the rape of children. I believe such an approach is wrong, disastrous for those children and with the capacity to do significant long term damage to the reputation of the agencies involved.
If your son or daughter were in the full time care and custody of known addicts and rapists and had been for more than a year, would you agree with those public agencies which wished to study the issue to determine what course of action to follow, knowing the study would take another year? Or would you demand that your children be removed immediately from the care and custody of addicts and rapists and that those same addicts and rapists be indicted for their crimes?
9. Almost a month ago a good friend and supporter of mine sent me an email recounting a conversation she had just had with a congressional staff member by the name of Kenneth Martin who works for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Apparently, Mr. Martin had a quite strong reaction when my name came up during their meeting. I understand Mr. Martin to have said, “He no longer has that job.” “It would be illegal to prohibit him from filing Mandated Reports.” “Mr. Sullivan is a liar and that would be proven in a hearing.”
Mr. Martin has never attempted to speak with me. He has never sent me any written inquiries about my Reports. If he has copies of them, I doubt that he has spent much time in reviewing them. I can only assume his comments were driven by prior conversations with Washington, DC staff from BIA, DOJ or my own agency. Wherever they come from, he has made slanderous statements about me.
I still work for ACF as Regional Administrator in Denver.
I also believe prohibiting me from filing Mandated Reports is an illegal act. I trust he has initiated a congressional oversight investigation into this matter to determine whether there is a factual basis to proceed to indictments.
I would be pleased to appear before the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee if I were subpoenaed, placed under oath and asked to answer any questions about conditions at Spirit Lake. Then we would know who the real liars are.
Thomas F. Sullivan
Regional Administrator, ACF, Denver