Published September 24, 2017
A week ago, late Saturday night, 64-year-old Yankton Sioux tribal elder Raymond Cournoyer, Sr. received word his mother was going to make her journey to the spirit world. As any concerned and loving son would do, he attempted to rush to her deathbed at the Good Samaritan Center in Wagner, South Dakota.
Sadly, he never made it to her side before she walked on.
Unfortunately, for this tribal elder, he was driving while American Indian, in Wagner. Apparently, too fast. Upon arrival at the Good Samaritan Center, he was approached by two police officers who had followed him into the parking lot of the nursing home. He tried to explain his sense of urgency to get to his mother’s side. He proceeded to walk towards the entry to the nursing home to be with his mother. The officers told him to stop. He said told them: No.
The two officers involved—one a Wagner Police officer and the other a member of the South Dakota Highway Patrol—apparently did not believe Cournoyer’s story. One of the officers proceeded to slam Cournoyer to the ground, while the other opened fire on him with a taser gun. He was immediately handcuffed.
Some 45 minutes went by as the officers detained the tribal elder—all the while his mother passed away inside the nursing home—so the Wagner Police chief could arrive to figure how to charge Cournoyer.
Photographs of the tased tribal elder were posted by his daughter on social media. The disturbing photographs showed numerous places on Cournoyer’s body where he was injured by the taser gun and the excessive force of the officers.
As do other Americans who read about the national epidemic of police brutality, I often try to give the law enforcement officers the benefit. However, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so. I know American Indians, on a per capita basis, are more likely to die as the result of law enforcement than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.
In the case of this tribal elder, it is a complete disgrace the two overly aggressive law enforcement officers were so blatantly insensitive to him while his mother was dying. It would have taken just minutes for one of the officers to call the facility—or better yet, walk into the nursing home to corroborate Cournoyer’s story.
There is no way these two officers can ever replace the stolen moments taken from this tribal elder to spend time with his mother before her death.
News reports out of Wagner say the two officers are now under investigation. Hopefully, the investigation does not take long. I think they should be immediately fired for such abuse against this tribal elder and made to publicly apologize for such inhumane treatment of a human being during a family crisis.
The Yankton Sioux Tribe released a press statement this past week. It read, in part:
“The Business and Claims Committee and tribal public are outraged at this incident. While there are still many unknowns, the pictures speak for themselves. It is unacceptable for anyone, much less an elder, to be deprived of their rights at the hand of law enforcement, and be treated with such force that they are bloodied, bruised and injured,” exclaimed Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Robert Flying Hawk. “We do not know if there is room to have a respectful discussion about the incident but we must try.”
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