Home News Stories 2012 June Journey Through Indian Country, Part 2

Journey Through Indian Country, Part 2

A special agent’s rounds on a remote reservation illustrate the job’s challenges.

Home on reservation
Special Agent Mac McCaskill visits a home on the Tohajiilee Reservation, a satellite reservation of the Navajo Nation where many homes lack electricity and running water.
 

Journey Through Indian Country
Part 2: Making an Impact on the Reservation

06/07/12

Snow swirled in New Mexico’s high plains as Special Agent Mac McCaskill slowed his vehicle at the bottom of a hill on the Tohajiilee Reservation. He engaged the four-wheel drive before continuing slowly up the steep, bumpy track on his way to deliver a subpoena in a violent assault case.

McCaskill had driven an hour from Albuquerque on this 20-degree morning—typical of the distances that often separate agents from their cases in Indian Country—and now he was knocking on the door of a small wooden structure with one boarded-up window. On the hillside just beyond the dwelling sat a rusted trailer and an outhouse. A young woman holding an infant opened the door and told McCaskill the man he was looking for would be back later.

“On the reservation you can’t just call someone because many people don’t have a phone,” McCaskill said, explaining the challenges of investigating crimes in Indian Country. “Sometimes the best way to get anything done is to knock on doors.”


Paul Brusuelas

Teachers and Mentors

Paul Brusuelas, a tribal prosecutor for the Mescalero Apache Tribe in southern New Mexico, remembers when he was growing up on the reservation and very few young people had respect for law enforcement.

Today, things are different. “FBI agents, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and investigators from the Bureau of Indian Affairs actually go into the schools and talk to the kids,” he said. “They talk to young adults and young parents and try to persuade them to go in the right direction.”

“I would say 98 percent of our crime here is fueled by alcohol,” Brusuelas said.

“The agents and officers give a lot of education to the youth on alcohol, drugs, and gang activity—just a lot of positive influence. The kids all know the officers by their names now. Going down the road you’ll see the little kids waving their hands at the officers.”

“The FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Mescalero tribal officers and prosecutors work extremely well together,” he added. “We all keep in contact on a daily basis, and we all communicate well. Without the presence of the federal agencies here,” he said, “I think Mescalero would be in a world of hurt.”


In the process of knocking on doors and talking to people, McCaskill and other agents working in Indian Country become not just law enforcement officers but advocates for justice and sometimes even role models. (See sidebar.)

A New Mexico native, McCaskill said his eyes were “wide open” when he took an assignment in Indian Country. “Still, it’s difficult to comprehend the conditions on the reservations and the kinds of crime we see here,” he explained. “People are living in really difficult circumstances.”

In Tohajiilee, a satellite reservation that is part of the Navajo Nation, many homes lack electricity and running water, and social ills such as alcoholism are rampant. These issues, along with the fact that there are only a handful of tribal police officers assigned to patrol a sprawling area of more than 120 square miles, contribute to a serious crime problem.

“There are terrible crimes that happen on the reservations that go virtually unnoticed by the world outside,” McCaskill said. “If they happened anywhere else, in Denver or in Dallas, it would be front-page news for a week.”

As a result, he said, “we are serving a community that isn’t used to getting much service.” Perhaps it’s not surprising then that women beaten by boyfriends or spouses, or children sexually assaulted by family members may believe a call to authorities will do little to help them.

McCaskill works hard to change that perception. He patiently explained to the young mother the importance of serving the subpoena—so that the witness will testify, which could help make sure the violent offender stays in jail and no longer poses a threat to the community.

“Our caseloads may be 75 percent sexual assaults against children,” McCaskill said later. “People ask me if it’s difficult emotionally to work these cases, and my answer is always, ‘How can you not work them?’ These are cases where on a very fundamental level you are able to make a difference in a victim’s life by taking an abuser out of the family. When I help a victim and get to know the family,” he added, “I may be one of the few positive influences that they’ve ever seen from outside the reservation.”

Stopping that cycle of violence on the reservation is “extremely rewarding,” McCaskill said. “We are helping people here.”

Next: Murder on the Zuni reservation.

 

07.01.12

Journey Through Indian Country
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About This Series
Nationwide, the FBI is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country and has investigative responsibilities on about 200 reservations. FBI.gov recently visited New Mexico for a firsthand look at how the Bureau and our partners fight crime on tribal lands.

- Part 1: Fighting Crime on Tribal Lands 
- Part 2: Making an Impact on the Reservation
- Part 3: Murder on the Zuni Reservation 
- Part 4: Teamwork Makes a Difficult Job Easier
- Part 5: A Zero Tolerance Approach
- Part 6: Invaluable Experience on the Reservation

 

The FBI in Indian CountryBy law, the FBI is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country. Nationwide, there are 565 federally recognized Indian tribes. The FBI has investigative responsibilities on about 200 reservations. More than 100 agents in 19 of the Bureau’s 56 field offices work Indian Country matters full time, and we’ve represented federal law enforcement on tribal lands since the 1920s.
View large map

 

New Mexico highway (play video)
“The work that’s being done out there, it’s truly front-line. It’s also relying on your own resources, your own wits, to get the job done, because you don’t have a lot of backup.” 
— Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge, Albuquerque FBI

In Their Own Words
FBI officials and our law enforcement partners discuss the unique challenges of working and living in New Mexico’s Indian Country.
Lee videoGonzales videoHarrigan video
Special Agent in Charge, Albuquerque Division
  U.S. Attorney, District of New Mexico   Special Agent, Farmington Resident Agency
Fortunato video St. Germaine video McCaskill video
Special Agent, Gallup Resident Agency
  Criminal
Investigator, The Navajo Nation
  Special Agent, Albuquerque Division
Johns video Brusuelas video Roanhorse video
Special Agent, Santa Fe Resident Agency
 
Assistant Prosecutor, Mescalero Apache Tribe  
Senior Prosecutor, The Navajo Nation

 

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Indian Country Crimes page

Indian Country Crimes
The FBI investigates the most serious offenses: murder, child sexual and physical abuse, violent assaults, drug trafficking, gaming violations, and public corruption matters.
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