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Wolf Point man reaches $50,000 settlement with feds over injuries at Fort Peck jail

Wolf Point man reaches $50,000 settlement with feds over injuries at Fort Peck jail

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A Roosevelt County resident and enrolled tribal member has reached a settlement with federal government over injuries inflicted on him while incarcerated at the Fort Peck tribal jail.

Tyler Headdress, now 37, left Fort Peck Adult Corrections Facility in December 2018 with multiple fractures in his hands. He settled with attorneys representing the United States in April of this year for $50,000 in a lawsuit that alleged the jail’s staff failed to properly protect him from harm, and get him help once he was hurt.

“He’ll never be 100% because they waited too long, and they couldn’t fix him properly…He sat there without help for six days, and that is unbelievable,” said Henry Headdress, Tyler Headdress’s father. Tyler Headdress preferred to let his father speak on his behalf.

In mid-December 2018, Fort Peck tribal police jailed Tyler Headdress on a warrant for his arrest. He was held on a $100 bond, according to filed in Great Falls District Court.

Three days after getting booked into the jail, another inmate allegedly assaulted Headdress, documents say. Although guards stopped the fight, Headdress had swollen hands after the fight. He would not receive professional medical treatment until he bonded out of jail six days later.

At an Indian Health Service clinic in Poplar, Henry Headdress said health care workers put his son’s hands in splints and took X-rays before referring him to the Billings Clinic for surgery.

"His hands were broken for 17 days until we finally got him down to the Billings Clinic," he said. 

A lawsuit was filed in district court in April 2020 seeking compensation for Headdress’s injuries. The jail’s staff, employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, failed to keep Headdress from getting attacked by another inmate, according to documents filed in district court. After the attack, those same staff members failed to get him proper treatment. The jail, and its staff, operate under a series of contracts between the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes and federal government agencies.

Headdress and U.S. attorneys entered mediation in February 2021. Tim Bechtold, an attorney based in Missoula, represented Headdress. Magistrate Judge John Johnston conducted the settlement conference.

“For someone who was incarcerated, this was not just a simple case of negligence. It was a conscious disregard for medical need,” Bechtold said.

Two months after meeting for mediation, Bechtold and U.S. attorneys representing the United States reached a $50,000 settlement. Henry Headdress said his son unable to make a fist with his left hand, which still causes him pain. 

“I am requesting a federal investigation into the Fort Peck tribal jail. Our people are getting brutalized…It’s just like they don’t care. It’s going to take someone getting killed over there for anyone to do anything,” Henry Headdress said.

Prior to the settlement, the federal government had investigated the jail multiple times. In 2018, both the BIA and the Department of Justice cited several issues of compliance within the facility, and a lack of proper qualifications among its staff.

Leading up to an annual stampede held in Wolf Point in 2013, 15 people were rounded up by Fort Peck police and placed in the jail, according to an internal investigation conducted by the BIA. Those 15 people were held without any kind of due process, a violation of their civil rights. The investigation found four members of Fort Peck tribal law enforcement to be careless and negligent in carrying out their duties.

“The issue with Native civil rights is always tenuous, it’s always a tilted playing field against individual Native Americans. The most we can do in the legal community to help enforce their rights,” said Tim Bechtold, who has represented members of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes in several previous lawsuits against the federal government.

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