South Dakota — Family members of a Crow Creek Sioux Tribe woman who has spoken out against South Dakota’s handling of Native American children in foster care are questioning whether her arrest on a 13-year-old charge was politically motivated.
But Sara Rabern, spokeswoman for the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, said Wednesday that the arrest of 54-year-old Janice Howe, of Harrold, is simply a case of authorities finally catching up with someone who has been able to evade an old warrant.
“There’s nothing politically motivated here,” she said.
Howe pleaded guilty Tuesday to one felony count of perjury related to petition signatures she gathered in 1999 for a proposed constitutional amendment. In exchange for prosecutors dropping several similar charges, Howe acknowledged improperly vouching in a notarized document that she witnessed signatures on the petition.
She was released from the Hughes County jail Wednesday afternoon pending an Oct. 6 sentencing.
Howe’s husband, Louis Adrian, told the Pierre Capital Journal that the couple was returning from Fort Thompson to their home on the Crow Creek reservation on July 13 when they drove into a checkpoint arrest involving tribal police, U.S. marshals and Hughes County deputies.
Adrian said he believes South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley pursued the arrest because of Howe’s outspokenness against the state.
Rabern said Jackley wasn’t South Dakota’s attorney general when the case was initiated and the prosecutor on the case has since moved on to private practice.
Howe, a former public health nurse, was featured in a 2011 National Public Radio investigation that reported that state officials removed hundreds of Native American children each year, sometimes in questionable circumstances, while failing to place the children with their relatives or tribes. State officials at the time said that they were doing everything they could to keep families together.
Howe took on the issue while fighting to have two granddaughters returned to the family.
The Indian Child Welfare Act gives preference to American Indian families in adoptions of Indian children. Congress passed the act in 1978 after finding a high number of Indian children were removed from their homes and placed with non-Indian caretakers.
Howe’s attorney, Bradley Schreiber, did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment on her arrest.
Adrian said he learned that tribal officials gave permission to law enforcement agencies to make the arrest.
Roxanne Sazue, chairwoman of the Crow Creek Tribe, said she didn’t have any information on the case.
The ballot initiative in question was sponsored by a libertarian group called Justice Unlimited. It would have allowed people accused of crimes to argue that certain laws have no merit and should be ignored by juries. The group pulled Howe’s petitions from its filing amid doubts about their legitimacy. The measure failed.
During Tuesday’s court hearing in Pierre, Howe also pleaded guilty to one count of forgery related to a 2001 check-cashing case, according to the Hughes County State’s Attorney’s Office.