Family: Officials won’t say how Native American woman died
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The official report on the cause of death of a Native American woman whose body was found in a submerged truck cannot be released to her family because it is part of an active criminal investigation, North Dakota’s attorney general said.
Thirty-two-year-old Olivia Lone Bear disappeared from the Fort Berthold Reservation in 2017. The Newtown mother of five was found last August in the pickup truck pulled from Lake Sakakawea.
Olivia’s brother, Matthew Lone Bear, said Monday that the family has been “left in the dark,” the Bismarck Tribune reported. Matthew noted they have received no updates on the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs investigation since August.
Her father, Texx Lone Bear, has only received her death certificate, which lists her cause of death as “undetermined,” the brother said.
The report of death usually becomes a public record after eight days, but Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued an opinion last week that the report is exempt from the state’s open records law if deemed “active criminal intelligence and investigative information.”
Jack McDonald, a media lawyer, maintains that a report of death should become public in a timely manner, regardless of whether it is part of an investigation. He equated the report to minutes of a government entity’s meeting. If they are part of a criminal investigation, it’s still considered public record.
“My only concern is that it allows law enforcement to take what are ordinarily public records and make them private just because they’re using them to investigate,” McDonald said. “I think it gives them too wide a latitude that’s not needed.”
Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the FBI in Minneapolis, declined to confirm if the report of death is being concealed because it could hamper the investigation.
“There is nothing to share at this time,” Smith said in an email.
Matthew Lone Bear said his family may contact the North Dakota congressional delegation “to get confirmation” that the case is being actively investigated because they “feel like nothing is really happening.”
The Lone Bear family also wants to develop a missing-person protocol for tribes.