New task force investigates Arizona Indigenous cold cases

U.S. officials say a new task force will investigate Arizona cold cases involving Indigenous people who have been killed or are missing.

The office will open in the Gila River Indian Community south of Phoenix on August 13. 

Besides solving cases, the program also is aimed at developing protocols for law enforcement to respond to cases involving missing and killed Indigenous people and at improving data collection processes.

Task force members will take a deeper look at cases of violence against Native Americans that have gone unsolved, particulary women and girls.

The Arizona operation will be the fifth of seven that are being established across the nation as part of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force. President Donald Trump created it in a 2019 executive order.

More than 80% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, according to a 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice. More than 50% were victims of sexual or physical violence, the study said. The institute also said in 2015 that more than one in three Native women had experienced violence.

The Murder Accountability Project group that tracks unsolved U.S, homicides said that half of all murders in self-governed Native American communities are not reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies.

Other offices to investigate unsolved cases with Indigenous victims will be established in Alaska and Tennessee.

All will be staffed with special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They will help coordinate efforts with local, federal and tribal law enforcement to solve the cases.

The Arizona office will take on 239 cold cases, according to Tara Katuk Sweeney, the U.S. Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs.