Navajo Nation Sues DOJ, Arizona Law Officials Over Shooting Death

(CN) – The Navajo Nation has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Arizona law enforcement officials stemming from the 2016 police shooting death of Navajo Nation member Loreal Tsingine.

The lawsuit, filed this week in the U.S. District Court of Arizona, claims that the government violated Tsingine’s rights.

Tsingine, 27, was shot and killed in Winslow, Arizona by Winslow police officer Austin Shipley after he responded to a report of shoplifting at a convenience store. He was joined shortly after by fellow officer Ernesto Cano, who is also listed as a defendant.

Body-camera footage showed Tsingine and Shipley in a physical fight, with Tsingine holding a pair of forceps. Shipley drew his gun and fired at Tsingine, hitting her five times.

After a local police investigation found that Shipley “did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution,” the Navajo Nation wrote to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to ask the DOJ to investigate the shooting.

In October 2017, the DOJ announced that it had completed its investigation and found “insufficient evidence to disprove the officer’s claim that he shot Mrs. Tsingine in self defense.”

In an interview with Navajo Times in October, Floranda Dempsey, Tsingine’s aunt, spoke out about the DOJ’s investigation.

“We didn’t want to hear it but we knew that what he was saying kind of made sense because everything is based on a white man’s rules, regulations, policies, and laws,” Dempsey said.

According to the complaint, Tsingine had mental health issues, but was nonviolent. Stephen Garnett, who was Winslow’s police chief at the time, was mentioned in the complaint for having failed to properly train officers.

“The Winslow Police Department does not provide any training or guidance to its officers regarding interactions with people with mental health issues, and defendant Garnett did nothing to ensure that the officers under his direction and supervision, including defendants Shipley and Cano, were trained to deal with people with mental health issues,” the complaint says.

The Navajo Nation is represented by Katherine Belzowski of the Navaho Nation Department of Justice and attorney Paul Gattone

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