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Lawsuit Over FBI Handling Of Crow Man's Death To Go To Trial

Shane Thomas McMillan
University of Montana School of Journalism’s Native News Project
A photo of Steven Bearcrane-Cole holding his daughter is shown.

A federal lawsuit challenging how the Federal Bureau of Investigations handled a Crow man’s death will go to trial after a decade-long fight in court.

Over a decade ago, Earline Cole and her husband Cletus filed a case against the FBI, and others, on behalf of their son, Steven Bearcrane.

Bearcrane, a Crow tribal member, was shot and killed by a white man on the Crow Reservation almost fifteen years ago.

The FBI determined he was killed in an act of self-defense, but his family maintains he was murdered. In courtrooms across the country, from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Appeals Court in Seattle to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Cole family has argued that their son’s death was mishandled because of racism towards Native Americans.

Until this Thursday, Cole says she hasn’t been able to address those claims. That’s when U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon denied the FBI’s request for summary judgement. Now, the case will go to a bench trial that Haddon will oversee.

"My first words were praise be to God. This is what we’ve been praying for all these years. Over a decade we’ve been in court trying to get justice for Steven," Cole said. 

Bearcrane’s family is arguing that they’re entitled to victim's benefits because the FBI misclassified the shooting.

The parties will appear before Judge Haddon early next month to determine the schedule of the trial. Until then, Cole says this is the closest to justice she’s ever felt.

The Department of Justice says it does not have a comment.

Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.