Attorney general declines to investigate death of Indian basketball star

By JOHN S. ADAMS Tribune Capitol Bureau • June 8, 2010

HELENA — Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has declined a request by the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council that he open an investigation
into the Nov. 23, 2009, death of Allen “A.J.” Long Soldier.

Long Soldier, the high school basketball phenom who led Hays-Lodgepole to the State Class C basketball championship in 2007, died at Northern Montana Hospital in Havre after falling seriously ill while in custody at the Hill County Detention Center.

Authorities said he died of acute alcohol withdrawal.

Last month James Steele Jr., chairman of the Tribal Leaders Council, wrote a letter to the attorney general asking him to look into whether Hill County detention officers provided adequate care to the 18-year-old, who died after spending four days in jail.

Long Soldier died in the hospital after twice being sent there from the detention center, where he was jailed on May 19 on a misdemeanor warrant from Blaine County.

In a May 6 letter to Bullock, Steele stated that the way Long Soldier died “is of ongoing concern” to the tribal community.

Tribal leaders were critical of how the results of a coroner’s inquest into the death were presented to a seven-member jury last March and called on Bullock to investigate.

Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl, who presented evidence to the jurors in the May coroner’s inquest, is married to the Hill County jail administrator, according to Tribune files.

“Clearly this appears to present a conflict of interest and, if true, undermines the findings of the Coroner’s jury,” Steele wrote in his letter to Bullock.

Steele also suggested Long Soldier received inadequate medical care because of his race.

“Because A.J. was obviously Indian, incarcerated in county-run facilities, overseen by non-Indian jailers and supervisors, strong concern exists that his lack of adequate care was because of his race,” Steele wrote.

In March a jury cleared Hill County detention officers of any wrongdoing after 30 minutes of deliberation.

In his May 28 response to Steele, Bullock called Long Soldier’s death a “tragedy,” but he stated the findings of the coroner’s inquest were fairly presented and that nothing in the findings provided sufficient evidence to “support the conclusion that Mr. Long Soldier died as a result of criminal means.”

“If additional evidence comes to light showing criminal conduct resulting in Mr. Long Soldier’s death, the possibility of criminal prosecution
remains,” Bullock wrote.

As for whether Long Soldier was given adequate care while in jail, Bullock wrote that the state does not establish standards for the treatment of ill
inmates in county detention facilities.

“By statute the operation of county detention facilities is the responsibility of the county commissioners and the sheriff,” Bullock wrote.

Letter 1
Letter 2 (reply by AG)