SHIPROCK, N.M. – The father of an 11-year-old Navajo girl who was abducted and killed has sued the tribe for failing to have an emergency notification system that he claims would have saved his daughter's life.
The civil complaint filed last month by Ashlynne Mike's father, Gary Mike, says the Navajo Nation had numerous opportunities to develop an alert system before Ashlynne was kidnapped near her bus stop in May and found dead a day later. An Amber Alert didn't go out until the morning after her disappearance, leading to outcry that the public did not get notice of a child in danger during the crucial hours of the search.
The nation's largest Indian reservation has struggled to launch an emergency notification system since it was proposed years ago. The tribe announced last week that a new system should be working within a couple of weeks and that training for law enforcement was expected to start this month.
Attorney David Jordan, who is representing Gary Mike and his family, said his clients want the Navajo Nation to acknowledge its wrongdoing to vindicate Ashlynne's life. The suit does not include a request for compensation but demands a jury trial.
"They filed the complaint to get some justice for their daughter," Jordan told The Daily Times in Farmington. "The Navajo Nation had all the means and ability to put in place a structure that would have saved her life, and they funneled that money away in kind of a shameless way."
Navajo President Russell Begaye acknowledged that past leaders secured funding to implement an alert system.
"We don't know why the previous administration didn't pursue establishing such a system on the Navajo Nation," the president said in a statement to the newspaper. "However, we are thankful that we now have a system in place."
The tribe, whose reservation spans 27,000 square miles on parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, received $330,000 in federal funding as part of a U.S. Justice Department pilot project announced in 2007 to expand Amber Alerts on tribal lands.
Half the money was used to buy equipment such as megaphones and pop-up tents, but the rest went unspent.
The complaint also pointed to a grant of $357,000 that was awarded in 2011 to help the tribe upgrade its fingerprint identification system to share information with national databases and enhance technology resources by buying computers, hard drives and scanners.
Ashlynne Mike's father filed a missing person report for his daughter, but an Amber Alert issued by authorities in New Mexico didn't go out until around 2 a.m. the day after her disappearance.
Tom Begaye Jr. of Waterflow, New Mexico, has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in Ashlynne's death. He told investigators he sexually assaulted the girl and struck her twice in the head with a crowbar, and that she was still moving when he left her in the desert, according to court documents.
"If a concentrated search had been begun immediately upon the making of the report, it would have saved her life," the complaint filed by Ashlynne's father said. "The entire investigation and search was mishandled, and the Navajo Nation's own failings directly contributed to Ashlynne's death."
Information from: The Daily Times, http://www.daily-times.com