Murders Of California Native Women Concentrated Along North Coast, Study Shows
A new study analyzes the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women in California. It found the highest concentration of cases along the North Coast.
This is the first-year findings of a three-year report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute, a data-driven nonprofit based in Humboldt County. It found 165 documented cases of missing or murdered Native American women across California. Over a third were in sparsely populated Northern California counties.
The report reveals a history of lax policing and poor record-keeping in cases involving violence against Native American women. In some cases, law enforcement officials were the perpetrators.
“Almost every family we talked to knew a Native person that experienced police brutality,” says Executive Director Annita Luchessi. “And quite a few of them knew Native women who experienced rape at the hands of a county sheriff’s officer.”
The report found 22 documented cases of violence in Humboldt County over the past several decades. It had the highest concentration of cases in the state.
One incident involved a deputy allegedly molesting a girl on the Hupa reservation in the late 1980s. Former deputy Kevin Christie was charged with several counts of sexual assault involving a 13-year-old girl. Christie had three trials; the first resulted in a mistrial and the second a conviction. The conviction was overturned; when it went back to trial, it was dropped because the victim “could not withstand the mental health impacts of testifying for a third time,” according to the report.
Christie is no longer working at the sheriff’s office, but he continues to be an active member of the local Elks Club and the National Rifle Association chapters in Eureka.
Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal read and approved the report before it was published. He says he can’t respond to the accusations made against Christie because they occurred before he joined the department.
Still, Honsal says he wasn’t surprised by the report’s conclusions, since his department has been aware of the issues around poor policing of tribal lands and is working to do better.
“I know it's not positive about our past, but I'm not shying away from that, and our departments aren’t shying away from that,” Honsal said. “We want to improve things and we want to continue to improve things. And so we will take that criticism moving forward and try to make sure that this community is served.”
Honsal says his department faces challenges with covering a vast expanse of forested land that includes eight tribal jurisdictions. It recently began having someone deputized at each jurisdiction to build relationships and trust with tribal communities.
California and Oregon are two of six states that maintain Public Law 83-280, which in1953 took away the federal government’s authority to prosecute crimes in tribal jurisdictions. As a result, local sheriff’s departments in these states handle a majority of cases involving missing and murdered Native women, unless they agree to give jurisdiction back to the United States.