VINELAND, Minn. — The 11-year-old boy was led from his school in handcuffs, held overnight in a juvenile detention center, and hauled into court in shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit.
His crime? Missing a court date to testify as the victim of an assault.
The treatment of the boy, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, has reignited a decades-old feud between the tribe and officials from the surrounding county in central Minnesota.
"There's other people out there they could have picked to make an example of," said Kristie Lee Davis-Deyhle, the boy's mother, in her first interview about the case. "Not an 11-year-old."
Tribal leaders are calling for the resignation of the Mille Lacs County attorney, Jan Kolb, who says she was just carrying out policy in the face of a long history of band members ignoring subpoenas.
"I don't know that it should have been done differently," said Kolb, who was first elected in 1993. The uproar, she said, "is a way to make Mille Lacs County look like it's racist."
The Mille Lacs Band, now the largest employer in the county, and some of its neighbors have long had a tense relationship in their shared home around Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota's second-biggest lake and a choice spot for walleye fishing and other outdoor recreation.
The official policy of the county is that the Mille Lacs Band's reservation no longer exists because of legal decisions dating to the early 20th century. Federal courts have rejected a lawsuit to that effect, but Kolb and the Mille Lacs County Commission maintain their position.
Kolb caused a flap last year by detailing the policy in a memo to county department heads. Soon after, members of the local American Indians Veterans Post 52 and the Ladies Auxiliary were booed by some spectators while riding a float in the Fourth of July parade in the Mille Lacs County town of Isle.
Against that backdrop came the arrest of the 11-year-old band member.
Allegedly assaulted by classmate
The boy was allegedly the victim of an assault by a 13-year-old classmate. But, Kolb said, the county was having trouble prosecuting the 13-year-old because the younger boy and his mother ignored subpoenas and missed several court dates. Davis-Deyhle said the family never got the subpoenas, and a tribal lawyer said the county is not diligent in making sure subpoenas are served.
When the boy missed a court hearing in early April, Kolb's office requested the judge issue a warrant for his arrest. A tribal officer was dispatched to his school, where he was handcuffed and transported to the detention center. Davis-Deyhle talked to her son on the phone that afternoon.
"He told me he didn't understand what was going on. I could hear the tears, the fear in his voice," Davis-Deyhle said.
Dressed as a prisoner
The boy spent the night at the juvenile detention center, about 60 miles away in St. Cloud. At the court hearing the next morning, in which the boy was brought into court in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and shackles, prosecutors announced that they wouldn't press charges and that he was free to go.
Kolb is unapologetic about the boy's treatment. She said the entire point of the prosecution was to make him safer against the 13-year-old aggressor.
"This family knew his appearance was needed in court," Kolb said. "Someone needed to step in and say, we'll get him there next time. Some showing of accountability or acknowledgment of the criminal justice system."
Last week, Benjamin asked the state attorney general to intervene and force Kolb to change her practices; lawyers from that office went to Mille Lacs County and are now determining if they have jurisdiction.
The American Civil Liberties Union is also seeking a government investigation, and Brunkow said the family is likely to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.
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