Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the federal fiscal year runs from October to September, not July to June as the state's does.
Of the felony-level crimes the FBI is investigating this year on the Wind River Indian Reservation, child sexual abuse makes up nearly half of them, a federal agent told Wyoming legislators Thursday.
The FBI investigates felony-level crimes on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has an agency on the reservation as well, which investigates both felony and misdemeanor-level crimes.
The recent fiscal year, which stretched from last October to September, 40% of the FBI’s open criminal cases for the reservation involve sexual abuse of minors, Jedediah Oakley, supervisory senior resident agent for the FBI in Wyoming, told the legislative Select Committee on Tribal Relations while meeting in Fort Washakie.
Another 19% of those cases are assault.
Death investigations — which include not just homicide, but also other investigated deaths like suicides and unattended deaths — make up 11%. There are 10 death investigations for the year altogether, and four of them have been ruled homicides, he said.
Rape cases comprise 8% and domestic violence makes up 6%, said Oakley.
“Those don’t add up exactly to 100,” he said, adding that the remainder are “outliers” and the occasional financial crime. “But that’s typically what we see for our top caseload.”
There have been at least 150 unsolved homicide cases across Wyoming since 1965, added Oakley, citing conversations he’s had with state police and officials.
Oakley noted that the Wind River Indian Reservation is sometimes portrayed as one of the more dangerous reservations in the nation.
He did not draw that comparison or deny it, however, saying that to make such comparisons wouldn’t help the local FBI office with its work.
“We don’t compare those numbers to other reservations across the country, simply for the fact that it doesn’t really help us make any decisions or (with the) operations or investigations that we’re focused on,” he said.
In the three fiscal years prior, which would have been fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022, the FBI opened 68, 73 and 64 cases in the region, respectively.
That’s typical, said Oakley. The FBI usually opens between 60 and 70 cases per fiscal year.
Not A Money Problem
It’s not for a lack of “resources” when the FBI gets stumped on a case, said Oakley.
A cold case is one the agency has run out of investigative leads for. When that happens, personnel will place it in a pending inactive status file, or a closed status. But the agency will “maintain the evidence” and pick the case back up if more information on it surfaces, he said.
Tribal Relations Committee Co-Chair Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, asked about the federal policy on preserving “rape kits,” collections of biological evidence from alleged sexual assaults.
Because of 2019 legislation Ellis sponsored, it is against Wyoming law to destroy rape kit evidence until all applicable statutes of limitations have run out on a crime, or a court orders the destruction of that evidence.
Federal law dictates how evidence is kept during the FBI’s investigations, and generally investigators consider a defendant’s sentencing a checkpoint for dropping evidence, he said. But in cold cases, those decisions are “worked out” between the FBI and its prosecutorial counterpart, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Oakley added.
Who Are These Kids?
Ellis also asked what ages generally the victims in the child sex abuse cases are.
The category encompasses anyone under 18, said Oakley, but the agency sees “a pretty wide age range. It’s not just teenagers.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.