Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old Native American mother of two boys, was pregnant when she died in police custody in South Dakota last month, Circle Bear’s family says.
In June, Circle Bear told friends she was expecting her third child and that she was concerned about her pregnancy, Adrienne Yancey, Circle Bear’s older sister, told ICTMN. Yancey said Circle Bear had complications with her last pregnancy and was consulting with physicians prior to her death.
“She had a hard time carrying her last baby,” Yancey said. “She had to go see the doctor all the time.”
On July 5, Circle Bear was found unresponsive in her cell at the Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota, according to reports. She allegedly cried out for help because she was suffering from excruciating abdominal pain. But, said a witness, jailers on duty told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking.”
Circle Bear was later removed from the cell and taken by ambulance to nearby Avera St. Luke’s hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Terrance Circle Bear, Sarah Lee’s father, told ICTMN he believes his daughter had already passed away before she was taken to the hospital. He said a nurse had told him by phone she arrived at the hospital not breathing and without a heartbeat.
“She wasn’t unconscious [in her cell],” Circle Bear said. “She was dead.”
Terrance Circle Bear, who is Cheyenne River Lakota and a father of six, said he wants to know why the authorities at the jail ignored his daughter’s pleas.
“She cried for help. She was in excruciating pain,” he said. “Why didn’t they take her to the hospital? Was it because she was Native American?”
Yancey said she is in possession of the prison jumpsuit Circle Bear was wearing at the time of her death – there’s blood on it, she said.
“They just handed it to me in a white bag. It just smelled weird, so I opened it up and I just seen the blood on there. So I just wrapped it back up,” she said.
Brown County coroner Mike Carlsen told the Associated Press that Circle Bear had sustained minor injuries from a car crash sometime prior to her death.
Like her father, Yancey wants to know why the jailers allegedly assumed Circle Bear was faking abdominal pain, and why they allegedly did not come to her aide.
“I just want justice for my sister. She could’ve been still alive today if they would’ve helped her,” she said.
Sarah Lee Circle Bear was being held for a bond violation, according to reports. She was living in Claremont, South Dakota, and was engaged to be married to Wayne Pahl. Pahl could not be reached for comment.
Circle Bear leaves behind two sons, ages 1 and 2. They are currently staying with their grandmother – Pahl’s mother – in Claremont.
Circle Bear’s cause of death has yet to be determined by the Brown County coroner. An autopsy was inconclusive, Carlsen told the Associated Press.
The Brown County Sheriff’s office did not respond to ICTMN’s request for comment.