The Justice Department will investigate the police shooting of Loreal Tsingine, a Native American woman who was accused of shoplifting. Local law enforcement ruled that the shooting was justified, but tribal activists disagree, claiming that Tsingine’s death is another example of race-based police violence. The number of Native Americans shot by police has recently skyrocketed, while the many tribal members suffer from economic hardship.
According to the Associated Press, Officer Austin Shipley shot Loreal Tsingine on March 27 in the small town of Winslow, Arizona, just outside the Navajo Nation reservation. The Justice Department says its civil rights division will review the investigation made by local authorities, which concluded that Shipley was justified in the shooting and would not be charged.
Silent body-cam footage, first obtained by the Arizona Daily Star, shows the moments leading up to Tsingine’s death, although it stops short of the actual shooting. The Guardian reports that the footage shows Officer Shipley trying to restrain the Navajo woman and shoving her to the ground. He draws his weapon as she approaches, armed with a pair of medical scissors in one hand.
Tsingine’s aunt, Floranda Dempsey, said her niece was 5 feet tall and weighed roughly 95 pounds.
“They should have been able to subdue her with their huge size and weight. It wasn’t like she came at them first. I’m sure anyone would be mad if they were thrown around.”
The aunt added, “Where were the tasers, pepper sprays, batons?”
The video footage doesn’t contain any of the dialogue exchanged between the two, but eyewitnesses claim that the police officer issued commands to the woman, including directions to get on the ground and drop the scissors, but she refused to comply.
Both Loreal Tsingine and Officer Austin Shipley had mixed records before their fatal encounter.
Tsingine had a lengthy criminal record according to local ABC15, including an incident where she attempted to grab an officer’s gun when he tried to arrest her.
Likewise, two police officers who trained with Shipley had serious concerns about him joining the force, saying that he was too quick to reach for his weapon, ignored commands from superior officers, and lacked control over his emotions. They also claimed he’d be more prone to falsifying reports.
Tsingine’s aunt said it was unbelievable the warnings were ignored.
“They were warned he was likely to hurt someone back in 2013 or so, by another commanding officer. It’s unbelievable as to why he was still allowed to wear a badge.”
The family has filed a $10,5 million lawsuit — $2.5 million for Loreal Tsingine’s husband, and $8 million for her 8-year-old daughter — against the city of Winslow, claiming that they were negligent in “hiring, training, retaining, controlling and supervising” the officer.
— NativeNewsOnline (@Native_NewsNet) July 31, 2016
According to data on police shootings by race, pooled together by the Guardian, Tsingine’s death is part of a larger trend of Native American killings. The data shows that while police shootings of other minorities from 2015 to 2016 have dropped slightly, shootings of Native Americans has spiked.
Activist Simon Moya-Smith says it’s unfortunate that Native Americans are so often left out of the conversation on racially-biased police violence.
“We know that many people don’t see us as human. We’re relics of centuries of lore. We first need to get the cops to recognize us as human, and hopefully then they won’t think of themselves as the judge, the jury and the executioner.”
The Navajo Nation also suffers from enormous economic problems, including 42 percent unemployment and 43 percent of the population living below the national poverty rate.
The family of Loreal Tsingine is now trying to raise money to pay legal fees for their lawsuit on GoFundMe, and Officer Shipley has been placed on paid administrative leave.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]