Family members are still trying to sort out the events that led to the delay getting help for Cordell T. Sun Bear, 37, who was bludgeoned and died in the basement of a duplex in a Rosebud Sioux Reservation Housing complex – within walking distance of the police department.
Despite multiple calls to the police department for help and a man in blood stained clothes greeting paramedics at the residence, hours went by before police and ambulance workers found Sun Bear’s body.
A beaten and dying Sun Bear was discovered on the basement floor of Malinda Sun Bear’s home by his 11-year-old nephew Randall Lowe Jr. and a friend who had gone to the residence to watch television May 9.
Seeing his uncle described as nearly unrecognizable because the severity of the beating, Lowe wanted to call police. But he said Marlon “Dale” Sun Bear, a relative and one of two men charged with second-degree murder in the death, grabbed his shirt and told him to “chill out.”
Frightened by his grim discovery, the boy and his friend ran to his home about a block away. He said he frantically described the scene to his 18-year-old sister Angela Lowe who called the police. Instead of sending a patrol car, Lowe said the dispatcher advised her to check on her uncle to verify her brother’s story and call back.
Too frightened to approach the house, Lowe said she sent her brother back to the Sun Bear residence to help while she called the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Ambulance Service and made a second call to tribal police.
When ambulance workers arrived, Marlon Sun Bear – in bloody clothing – convinced them no medical assistance was needed. Cordell Sun Bear lay dying as the ambulance pulled away.
Lowe said police officers never arrived to help, although she and a paramedic assigned to the ambulance say they called the police station.
At least one paramedic said the ambulance workers always call for a police escort and a call was made to the police.
Randall Lowe remembers telling the ambulance crew on the street that it wasn’t a false alarm, that his uncle was dying in the basement.
His sister watched the ambulance drive off without her uncle. Frustrated, she called again, hoping the female dispatcher would believe the story and give aid to her uncle. It didn’t happen.
“She told me to go up there myself and see if they really needed help.”
Pacing in her kitchen, the teen said she didn’t know what to do. She had no car to transport her uncle and no help. Lowe said the ambulance didn’t return to the hospital and she could see workers waiting for police outside a convenience store across the highway from the housing area.
When a second call was made to the police department, she said the dispatcher told her a patrol unit was on its way to the home. “They said a male greeted them and told them nothing was going on,” she said.
Sharon Sun Bear, the victim’s sister, said, ” They could have at least checked.”
Nearly three hours later, sometime after 10 p.m., Malinda Sun Bear found Cordell dead in the basement. She called police and the ambulance.
“There was a place on his head that had been caved in and he was laying on a box spring covered with a blanket,” she said.
“Everybody was scared. I couldn’t even think right.”
Family members helped police find Marlon Sun Bear, 24, and Lambert James Gunhammer, 18, who pleaded not guilty, and are being held without bond. If convicted, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
In a report, FBI Special Agent Joseph Weir said Marlon Sun Bear said he, Gunhammer and Lynette Has No Horse were drinking and smoking marijuana at Malinda Sun Bear’s home when Cordell arrived and began “acting tough” while the group watched television in the basement.
Malinda Sun Bear said she asked Gunhammer to leave before she left for the evening. When she arrived home, she found the aftermath of an event she said was beyond her comprehension.
The FBI report suggested the beating lasted between 10 and 15minutes, with Marlon Sun Bear and Gunhammer punching and kicking the victim.
“He might be alive right now,” if only police had believed the 11-year-old’s report, Sharon Sun Bear said.
While tribal members have complained on the floor of council chambers about the lack of stable law enforcement, improvement to law enforcement has been slow to take place.
BIA officials noted deficiencies in the police department, but the bureau is reluctant to seize control of the police department.
The Rosebud police department lacks stable leadership, training and basic equipment and suffers from a mismanagement of funds, BIA acting district commander Monte Gibson told a daily newspaper. The department is on a “high-risk” status with the BIA, which means it is not meeting federal requirements and hasn’t for some time.
No separation of powers exists under the tribe’s constitution and that allows tribal politics to affect the department, Gibson said.
“They need to separate it. There’s a lot of political influence. As long as the tribe continues as they’ve done, ultimately the community suffers because they’re not getting adequate police services.”
Without a request from the tribal chairman asking the agency to take over law enforcement or a significant event suggesting the need for the agency to step in, the BIA won’t step in, said District Commander Martin Hansford.
Hansford said he couldn’t comment on the Sun Bear case until he had more information, but he said staff shortages on reservations across the nation have made it difficult for police to respond to emergencies.