Death results in $1.8 million settlement
The family of a Warm Springs girl, who died Dec. 6, 2003, at a boarding school in Salem for Native Americans, will receive $1.8 million in a settlement for a wrongful death lawsuit, according to Attorney Foster Glass of Bend, who represented the family.
Cindy-Lou Gilbert Sohappy, 16, died alone in a holding cell at the Chemawa Indian School from acute alcohol intoxication. Officials at the school placed her in the cell because she was extremely intoxicated, in violation of her civil rights, Glass alleged in his lawsuit, filed on behalf of her family.
Sohappy was placed in the cell around 8:20 p.m. When school personnel checked on her at 11 p.m., she was dead. An autopsy revealed that she died of acute alcohol poisoning, with a blood alcohol content of .37 -- more than four times the legal limit for driving.
Glass filed several lawsuits seeking amounts up to $12 million under different theories for claims. "Under federal law, you can't get more than you asked for," he said.
The lawsuits against the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which operates the Chemawa school, and the Department of Interior, which oversees the BIA, allege that people at the highest levels of the BIA were aware that juveniles were being incarcerated for status events -- such as possession of, or intoxication by alcohol -- which are not considered crimes.
"They were having a little turf war," Glass said. "They couldn't figure out if it was law enforcement or some other branch that had responsibility for it. They knew about it and they didn't do a damn thing about it."
Calling the practice of jailing Native American youths "a national disgrace," Glass noted, "I alleged racial discrimination because they were knowingly incarcerating Indian children for a status offense. You can't incarcerate a juvenile for something that's not a crime."
Glass is not happy with the settlement. "Their settlement offers were really ridiculous," he said. "What I'm concerned with is that there were so many people that were so cavalier about following the law."
The family hasn't yet received money from the settlement, but when they do, Sohappy's mother, Renee Sohappy, plans to set up a scholarship fund with at least $25,000 from the settlement, Glass said.