The grandparents of two Ute Indian children have filed a $10 million federal class action lawsuit claiming the tribe has covered up sexual abuse of children on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.
The civil rights lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for Utah, claims the tribe has failed to prosecute "approximately 20" other incidents of child sexual abuse on the eastern Utah reservation.The lawsuit outlines alleged incidents dating back to March 1987, claiming the tribal business committee knew about them but repeatedly failed to act.
It also claims the tribe harassed the children's foster parents when they pursued the case and tried to remove the children from their care in order to halt the lawsuit.
"Numerous cases of abuse of Indian children exist on the reservation," the lawsuit claims. "The Ute Tribe is being grossly negligent in dealing with the matters of child abuse."
The lawsuit claims the Ute Tribal Court has harassed the plaintiffs, Darrell and Colleen Gardner, and that a court employee falsified an affidavit to help remove the children from a foster home after they pressed their concerns.
The lawsuit names as defendants the Ute tribe, the estate of former tribal business committee chairman Lester Chapoose, and committee members Irene Cuch, Maxine Natchees, Gary Poowegup and Wilford Conetah. Also named are Eldora Perank, a case worker for the Division of Tribal Social Services, division director Floyd Wyasket and 10 "John Does."
Telephone calls to the Ute tribal office in Roosevelt went unanswered Wednesday afternoon.
Attempts to contact the individual defendants, all of whom live on the reservation, also were unsuccessful.
Plaintiff's attorney Danny Quintana was not in his office late Wednesday.
The lawsuit claims the two minor children were placed with foster parents Johnny and Ilona Slim in March 1987. The children and their parents are not identified by name in the action.
The lawsuit said Slim noticed "behavioral problems" in one of the children, including an incident where the child cut the head and arms off of a friend's doll.
The child later told Slim that she was really cutting off "her dad's head and arms because . . . he had hurt her privates," the lawsuit said.
It alleges that evidence indicates the girl was abused by her father and five uncles. It also said the girl's sibling also was abused.
Between March and June 1987, Slim claims she repeatedly contacted tribal social services and was told investigation was ongoing. "In fact, (the) Defendant . . . did nothing," the lawsuit claims.
Meantime, Slim had the sexual abuse diagnosis confirmed by doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center.
Later that summer, Slim claims social services ordered an overnight visitation by the children's father, despite the evidence of abuse. The visit occurred and the lawsuit claims the children were again abused.
Slim claims she then went to the tribal council for help.
"At this and later meetings the defendants . . . conspired to suppress the evidence of this case and find any reason to take the plaintiff minor children out of the Mrs. Slim home," the lawsuit claims.
The children's father was convicted in August 1988 of forcible sexual abuse of children, after the council had known about the incidents for months.
Additionally, Quintana's lawsuit said he was stalled at every effort to resolve the problem in tribal court. He claims the defendants ignored a lawsuit filed there and the court dismissed his claims while pursing others against his clients.