Shiprock Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Aggravated Sexual Abuse Charge
ALBUQUERQUE—Vernon J. Atcitty, 28, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Shiprock, New Mexico, pleaded guilty this morning to an aggravated sexual assault charge. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Atcitty will be sentenced to eight years in federal prison followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. Atcitty will be required to register as a sex offender after he completes his prison sentence.
Atcitty was arrested on February 26, 2014, on a criminal complaint charging him with aggravated sexual abuse, and subsequently was indicted on that same charge on March 11, 2014. According to court filings, Atcitty sexually assaulted a Navajo woman on February 22, 2014, in Shiprock, which is located within the Navajo Indian Reservation.
In entering his guilty plea, Atcitty admitted taking the victim to an abandoned house and refused to let her leave until he raped her. Atcitty admitted forcing the victim to succumb to his demands by punching and grabbing her and by telling her that he would not let her leave the abandoned house.
Atcitty has been in federal custody since his arrest and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
This case was investigated by the Shiprock Office of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, with assistance from the Farmington office of the FBI, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle T. Nayback.
The case was brought pursuant to the Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (Tribal SAUSA) Pilot Project in the District of New Mexico, which is sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women under a grant administered by the Pueblo of Laguna. The Tribal SAUSA Pilot Project seeks to train tribal prosecutors in federal law, procedure and investigative techniques to increase the likelihood that every viable violent offense against Native women is prosecuted in either federal court or tribal court or both. The Tribal SAUSA Pilot Project was largely driven by input gathered from annual tribal consultations on violence against women and is another step in the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to increase engagement, coordination, and action on public safety in tribal communities.