August 13, 2009
It goes back almost 150 years. The U.S. government signed a treaty with the Oglala Sioux Tribe in 1868 agreeing that if “bad men among the whites” hurt an Indian, the feds would reimburse the injured person. Now a federal judge has decided to honor that treaty.
Judge Francis M. Allegra ruled in April that Lavetta Elk, 26, is entitled to more than $590,000 in damages for having been sexually assaulted in 2003 by Staff Sgt. Joseph Kopf, a military recruiter. According to court records, Kopf assaulted Elk when she was in high school and applying to join the army. The government has conceded that the assault happened, and Kopf was taken off recruiting duties and reduced in rank.
The ruling marked the first time that the treaty was found to cover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, Elk’s lawyer Adam Horowitz told the Associated Press. The federal government had argued it was only responsible for Elk’s treatment expenses and not for any long-term anxiety or anguish she faced.
As this issue of ColorLines went to print, U.S. Justice Department officials hadn’t said if they would appeal the decision.