Justice Department should investigate Ward County incident

Many people in Ward County are still smarting from last week’s dismissal of the criminal case against former Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski – even if not feeling that Mr. Kukowski would be found guilty, the lack of a trial is unconscionable to a significant portion of the community.

These individuals who have offered their thoughts to Minot Daily News in the hundreds over the course of the debacle aren’t rabble rousers or everyday contrarians. On the contrary, they are working professionals, seniors, young idealists, current local law enforcement officers, family members of current local law enforcement officers, ex-cops and retired police, attorneys and dads and moms – it seems like a lot of moms.

Without exception, these committed residents feel that there is something very, very wrong in Ward County and with the way the controversy played out. What they see is that a young man died after a stay in a jail operating outside of lawful parameters, after being denied medical attention. They see two investigations assert criminal wrongdoing, but a case then delayed and eventually scuttled following the intervention of elected officials. They see injustice, they see the good ol’ boy political structure that has crippled Minot for years reaching out to protect its own. Go home now, there’s nothing to see here, they feel they are being told.

Now, what Ward County residents seem to really hear is the instruction to pipe down and abide a culture that accepts that some residents are second class citizens, beneath concern for their lives and civil rights. Furthermore, there is a sense that taxpayers are supposed to accept a two-tier system of justice – one for the little people and one for government officials. This dark new monarchy would tell us that law and order can only be maintained by making special allowances for those who profess to make law and enforce the law.

Rubbish.

At the center of this entire affair is the unnecessary death of a young minority whose care was the responsibility of his jailers. Investigators claim this resulted from his criminal actions. A sluggish legal process was brought to an end with the intervention of politicians. A man died. No one was held accountable. Taxpayers paid the bill. Local authorities hope to see the whole issue disappear. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has been silent.

It’s time for an honest broker.

On principle, Minot Daily News generally opposes most federal intrusion in local and state affairs. However, there are occasions when it is the only answer. One of those occasions is when local and/or state officials have lost sight of their oaths, their responsibilities and to the fact that they work for taxpayers and not just for the benefit of their fellow public officials.

Therefore, Minot Daily News calls on the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a Civil Rights investigation into the death of Dustin Irwin and into the subsequent perceived cover-up and effort to insulate responsible individuals.

Furthermore, Minot Daily News calls on our D.C. delegation to urge the Trump administration to advocate for the investigation. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, in particular, strongly promotes her efforts to improve the lives of and opportunities for North Dakota’s Native communities. Improving these lives means more than bringing home federal dollars; it includes ensuring that these lives have meaning in the first place. Today in Ward County, this remains very much in question.

It’s time for the federal government to shine light into the dark corners of our community and help foster a bright, better tomorrow where decency and fairness thrive, for our children and their children.

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