Spirit Lake Child Abuse: Feb. 11 Letter from Sullivan to McMullen
Tom Sullivan’s response to offensive, child-endangering letter by his Washington DC superior, Ms. Marrianne McMullen
February 11, 2014
Thank you for sending me a copy of your response to Spirit Lake Chairman McDonald’s letter to me dated January 26, 2014.
Your email is heavy on conclusions but light on any rationale to support those conclusions.
1. You wrote, “ACF does not have the authority or expertise to conduct investigations of suspected child abuse, and thus Tom Sullivan will not undertake such an investigation at Spirit Lake.”
The latest version of the Administration for Children and Families 2014 Strategic Plan overcomes the “authority” issue you raise. Mr. Murray, in your presence, characterized this Plan version as just about final and did not think we would get far trying to revise it during the conference call with all the Regional Administrators earlier on the afternoon of February 5, 2014. The very same day you responded to the Chairman’s letter. The 2014 Plan states in its Introduction, “we seek to support national, state, tribal and local efforts to strengthen families and communities and promote opportunity and economic mobility.”
Later in that same section the 2014 Plan states, “we seek to advance a set of key goals” followed by a listing which includes, “Promote Safety and Well-being of Children, Youth and Families;” It is difficult for me to understand how we can do any of this if we are unwilling to address and seek to stop the mental, physical and sexual abuse of children, especially when we are being informed on a daily basis about such abuse.
You have from our first meeting sought to defame me, belittling my education, experience and skills. After more than 45 years of broad-based, senior work in the design, development, management and evaluation of health and human service programs at the highest levels in both the public and private sectors all across this country. I have an established reputation for both accomplishment and integrity that will be minimally influenced by your sniping.
I will let the testimony of those who have had an opportunity to observe my work all across this Region, especially in Indian Country, and who have taken the time to speak with me about my concerns for abused children and the lifetime burden they bear due to their abuse address the issue of my expertise in these matters. On March 12, 2013, Ms. Diane Garreau, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Tribe’s ICWA Director and Founding Board Member of the ICWA Directors of the Great Sioux Nation, representing the nine South Dakota federally recognized tribes, called me and said, “I need to get someone who can speak as an expert on child abuse and neglect of American Indian kids at our Summit in a couple of months. You are the most knowledgeable person about this stuff who I know. But I also know that you have a big gag stuck in your mouth by your Agency’s leadership when it comes to speaking about this stuff. So, who would you recommend, if I cannot get you?”
Ms. Suzanna Tiapula is an attorney and long-time Executive Director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse (NCPCA) who said on November 6, 2013, “I am really disappointed you have been denied permission to participate as faculty in our upcoming train the trainer course in Santa Fe, NM. We will not be as effective as we hoped because our best, you, will not be there.” This program,
as you know, was specifically focused on the development of a cadre of trained individuals from Indian Country who could go back to their homes and begin to address more effectively the epidemic of child abuse raging in their communities. This epidemic of child abuse has grown to its current size because our bureaucratic predecessors chose to ignore it.
This Santa Fe training was one of 11 three-day sessions which NCPCA had agreed to provide in Indian Country for essentially the same purpose all across this country as a result of my work with them. These sessions were provided at no cost to program participants, ACF or DHHS.
It has been clear to me that you have never wanted to admit that I had any expertise. You hoped that view would go unchallenged if you never allowed me to venture into the real world where children are being abused daily, available to be raped daily. Is that why you prevented me from making six trips last year, all into Indian Country and all dealing with these issues? Your actions facilitated the libel and slander of my sources and I by the criminally corrupt.
2. You also wrote, “Currently, the BIA is managing the investigations of incidents of suspected abuse at Spirit Lake and has referred some incidents to the Federal Bureau of Investigation”
My sources began reporting their concerns about Spirit Lake children more than seven years ago to the state, the BIA, FBI and US Attorney. Their reports were ignored. The documentation they provided went unread and then was shredded.
Is there something new to suggest these organizations will be any more responsive now? It seems clear to me that all law enforcement at Spirit Lake is engaged in the same do-nothing approach to their work as evidenced by the following five examples.
When a non-custodial father reported the suspected (she told him she was being sexually molested by a Level 3 offender living in her home) molestation of his 13 year old daughter to Tribal Social Services, Tribal Council and the BIA, the best any of them could do was to promise that the BIA would attempt to begin an investigation in 30 days. That was 60 days ago. It is not clear, after 60 days, that any investigation has even begun.
There have been three rapes of young ladies on the Reservation during the last three months. BIA law enforcement was notified in each case. In each case the young woman said she wanted to press charges against her rapist. This will be difficult because no victim statement was taken in any of these three cases.
There was no rape kit prepared in any of these three cases. No pictures of the bruises on the bodies of each of these women were taken. The FBI has, I understand refused to intervene and take responsibility for these three felonies. Each of these women is an enrolled Tribal member as are their rapists, The rapes occurred within the geographic confines of the reservation.
In the last 8 months there has been one serious beating of a young nurse who lives on the Reservation, allegedly by two female relatives of the former Tribal Chair. This victim too wants this case prosecuted and her attackers sent to prison. She has given the FBI and BIA law enforcement a statement describing her attack and providing the names of her attackers, pictures of the bodily damages she suffered and the names of several eyewitnesses to this attack. Nothing is apparently being done by anyone in the BIA or FBI to bring indictments in this matter. Both the victim and her alleged assailants are enrolled Tribal
members. The assault took place within the geographic confines of the reservation.
The BIA knew the placement of those almost three year old twins in the home of their grandfather and step-grandmother in early May, 2013, was placing them in grave danger. This was proven less than 30 days later, on June 13, 2013, when one of the twins turns up dead, murdered by her step-grandmother. Despite knowing their own biological children had been removed from their care and custody, that they both had been charged with and convicted of child abuse of their own children, the BIA authorized the placement of these children in their full-time, unsupervised care and custody.
The BIA has apparently done nothing to insure the safety of that suicidal little boy who I brought to your attention on September 23, 2013. You assured me at that time that “Marilyn Kennerson with the Children’s Bureau is working with the BIA and the tribe to make sure that all appropriate measures are taken to assure the child’s safety.” Subsequent events made clear your words were hollow, The BIA has
also apparently done nothing for the two sisters who are placed in a foster home where “discipline” is administered by stripping these girls to their panties, duct-taping their hands in front of them and forcing them to sit on a stool in an uninsulated attic for hours at a time. The same can be said for the 13 year old
girl who told her Dad that she was being sexually molested by a Level Three sex offender. I gave Ms. Kennerson the names of these children as well as other relevant information about their placement more than three weeks ago during a meeting with her. It is hard to see how anything could have been done for these children if those who were supposed to be providing that help did not even know their names.
A few weeks after that meeting with Ms. Kennerson I requested an update on the condition of these children from her and have received nothing. It seems that if you have done nothing to protect children in these circumstances, the best strategy is to remain mute.
Tolerating such ineptitude from the BIA, FBI and other law enforcement especially when it results in a multi-generational failure to prosecute is troubling in light of a joint statement published on February 6, 2014 in the White House Blog by Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, Jodi Gillette, Senior Advisor for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council and Raina Thiele, Associate Director White House Office of Governmental Affairs where
they wrote, “Improving the safety of our tribal communities is a priority of President Obama and his Administration….These important provisions remind us all that a victim is a victim, and that everyone is entitled to protection against any perpetrator.”
Attorney General Eric Holder in an article by Sari Horowitz entitled “New Law Offers Protection to Abused Native American Women” in the February 9, 2014 issue of the Washington Post is quoted as saying, “The numbers are staggering…It’s deplorable. …this is an issue that we have to deal with. I am simply not going to accept the fact it is acceptable for women to be abused at the rates they are being abused on native lands.”
If there is so much high level support for the thesis that all crime victims in Indian Country should be protected by aggressive prosecution of their assailants, why is so little occurring in Indian Country communities like Ft. Totten and St. Michael?
3. You also wrote, “The role of the Immediate Office of the Regional Administrator (IORA) is to provide leadership for ACF’s cross-cutting initiatives, emergency preparedness and response and administrative and communications support for ACF.”
On a conference call on February 5, 2014, just a few hours before you sent the response to Chairman McDonald you effectively endorsed the following language as part of or as an adjunct to the 2014 ACF
Strategic Plan. Your endorsement was understandable since you wrote out the listing of the five functions of every IORA. That page and one-half started with: “Regional Administrators represent the ACF Assistant Secretary in the region, providing leadership, cross-program strategy and coalition building on the regional, state and local levels across government and advocacy centers. As a team they and their staff fill five distinct functions;”
“Function 1: Regional ACF Leadership
Regional Administrators maintain high-level relationships with state, tribal, territory and local government partners as well as university, philanthropic and other community partners and alert the Immediate Office of the Assistant Secretary if there are issues of concern in the states. They are the point of contact for State Commissioners/Secretaries, Governor offices; state Congressional and Legislative representatives. They represent ACF in regional, Federal Executive Boards, are ACF’s representative with the Regional Director’s office, other Federal Agency leadership, and they provide office based leadership through State Team coordination and coordination of other ACF-wide activities.”
“Function 2: Initiative Leadership
IORA lead high priority, cross-cutting program initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act, Hispanic outreach, efforts to combat human trafficking and homelessness and a number of other cross-program initiatives that do not belong to any single ACF program……..”
It is difficult to reconcile your description of the limited functions of a Regional Administrator in your letter to Chairman McDonald with your description of far more expansive functions discussed during that conference call and outlined in that page and one-half that you composed.
I recall when you stormed out of my conference room on the morning of Friday, June 14, 2013 abruptly breaking off a conversation about how best to address the issues I had been raising at Spirit Lake. You were clearly dis-satisfied with my response to the effect that such an effort would not be easy but was doable, would require the active participation of a broad coalition of Tribal, state, federal and local
organizations to begin to effectively address these issues and was consistent with the kind of efforts I had lead in the past. At a minimum I told you that every one of ACF program components had to be involved, not just Child Welfare, and that we had to partner with the Indian Health Service, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Health Resources and Services Administration, Departments of Justice, Interior, Education, Labor, HUD and the Small Business Administration. These agencies and departments represented only the federal; side of the collaboration which would be necessary.
You had a far more negative perspective, apparently frustrated in your efforts to convince me that the problems were unsolvable and were quite displeased to hear my positive recommendations on how to proceed.
4. You also wrote, “We understand that reporting of alleged abuse through non-official channels has contributed to unnecessary confusion and delay. We will continue to encourage official reporting through appropriate channels in order to ensure timely and professional investigations to protect the children of Spirit Lake.”
Since I have been the only person, other than my sources, who has been reporting suspected child abuse at Spirit Lake, I can only assume this is a not so subtle swipe at me.
Before I filed a single Mandated Report I asked our Regional Counsel where I should file them. He responded that they should be filed with the US Attorney for the District where I suspected child abuse was occurring. I did.
All of my Thirteen Mandated Reports and supporting documentation were filed directly with the US Attorney for the District of North Dakota and with the individual the US Attorney identified for me at BIA. When Acting Assistant Secretary Sheldon prohibited me from filing those Mandated Reports, I had no choice but to file information I received from my sources with him or his designee. That is exactly what I have done. I have no control over what you do with them.
It is clear based on the case of the suicidal boy who I brought to your attention on September 23, 2013, that some, if not all, of those reports were never forwarded to anyone despite your assurances that the boy’s safety was assured due to the efforts of the BIA, the Tribe and the Children’s Bureau’s Ms. Kennerson. The fact that Ms. Kennerson had to ask me for the child’s identity three weeks ago, four months after my email from you on September 23, 2013, convinced me that your words were hollow, that you had done nothing to protect this child from self-injury or abuse at the hands of his abusive foster parents. You did not even know who this child was and neither you, nor BIA, nor the Children’s Bureau nor Ms. Kennerson did anything to determine his identity. What callous dis-regard for the safety of this suicidal little boy!
I will leave it for the citizens of Spirit Lake to inform you how ineffective it is to attempt to use the telephone numbers or resources you have identified in your letter. They can describe the number of hours, days, months, and years they have spent waiting for police to respond to a call, to answer a call so they may report a crime or for the return of indictments in especially vicious crimes.
I am attaching with this email a brief, three page write-up of a graduate of the Spirit Lake foster home system. It is entitled, “My Story”. Read it and understand the despair this now strong, resilient young woman felt as her reports of abuse, rape and neglect were ignored by those who were running the system then, when she was 5, 6 and 7 years of age. She went into the system between the ages of 4 and 5. She left it at 18. Now she is in her early 20s, an alcoholic with three children of her own and two step-sons. If she is able to achieve some level of normalcy in her life, it will be a remarkable achievement. If she can keep herself and her kids on the straight and narrow, avoiding having to put her kids into the care of
others, exposing them to the abuse she lived with as a child, she will be a great success. She recognizes the pitfalls she confronts on a daily basis and works harder than any of us to avoid them. The inter- generational abuse fostered by the corrupt criminals who must be removed cannot be allowed to continue. If it does, what this young lady has written will continue to be repeated many times over.
In one home where she was placed for several years, she was raped daily. No social worker looked in to check on her welfare during those years. What were those federal staff from BIA doing while this child was being raped daily? What kind of oversight did ACF’s Children’s Bureau provide? What kind of supervision did the state provide? Why did all of these adults allow this child to be raped daily?
If this or any other young woman slips up and has their children removed from their custody temporarily, why can’t they count on their kids being placed in a loving foster home where they will not be abused or neglected?
Thomas F. Sullivan
Regional Administrator, ACF, Denver
Letter to McMullen 021114.docx