At the time, there were two BIA police officers in Supai. It takes a minimum of seven officers to provide full-time police coverage, McNichols and tribal council members agree. Two other detention officers are needed to operate the small jail in Supai. Three years later, when Tomomi Hanamure hiked into the canyon, there were still only two BIA officers in Supai; there were no detention officers.
In a series of interviews conducted over the last year, McNichols said the lack of jailers and jail facilities forced police to curtail arrests. Now, he says, conditions in Supai are as bad as they have ever been. “It’s the most frustrating thing I have ever seen in my life,” he said.
McNichols, who retired from the BIA in 2005 after working 28 years with the Havasupai Tribe, described a community on the verge of collapse. “Every family on the reservation is affected by drugs and alcohol, and that leads to the other abuse, sexual assault and violence,” he said.
The violence has gone unchecked at least partly because federal and tribal officials have not prosecuted minor crimes on the reservation, particularly when they involve only Native Americans, he said. “Very little crime is ever reported,” McNichols said. “Victims don’t report it because they know the perpetrator could be back in the house immediately. The cops don’t write up all the incidents, because they know most will never be prosecuted.” Cases that are prosecuted usually wind up in the Havasupai Tribal Court, which, in McNichols’ judgment, is incapable of dealing properly with criminal matters. “Tribal Court can’t handle it, particularly at a place like Supai, where everybody knows each other, and many people are related,” he said.
Meanwhile, federal agencies don’t want to address crimes on the reservation, he said; the U.S. attorney’s office only files charges for major felonies such as the Hanamure murder. “By the time you get to the rapes and murders, there has been a whole lot of stuff going on to get to that point,” McNichols said.
“There are no rules here,” Randy Wescagome’s father, Billy Wescogame Sr., said as the sun rose above Supai on a crisp Saturday morning late in April. “We’re not in a (boxing) ring. Out here we do anything.” As he spoke, he gestured toward a group of Havasupai youths who were just now staggering home after partying all night. No one worries too much about the law in Supai, Wescogame said, because there rarely is any enforcement. Most minor crimes go ignored, he said. And if a serious confrontation arises, watch out.
“You get near me, man, I’ll chop your hands off, you know?” he said. “You give me a good reason, I’ll put that knife down the middle of your spine, so you don’t get back up.”
Wescogame, 49, wasn’t making a threat; he was simply explaining his view of the reality of Supai life. Like many Havasupai, he’s been locked up, often for off-reservation activities. His arms are covered with tattoos. At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, with a couple of front teeth missing, he has a frightening appearance that is completely at odds with his forthright, friendly manner.
The elder Wescogame said he quit drinking during his last stint in prison and turned his life around with the help of the Native American Church. (The most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans, the church blends Christianity, the ritual use of the hallucinogenic cactus peyote, and aspects of Buddhism. It frowns on the use of alcohol and recreational drugs.) Now, Billy Wescogame said, he minds his own business and is focused on raising a second family with his current wife, who serves on the Havasupai Tribal Council. But he can’t avoid the reality that one of his sons is charged with murder.
On Feb. 26, 2006, Randy Wescogame was released from juvenile probation and turned loose from the Canyon State Academy, a boarding school for troubled juveniles in Queen Creek, Ariz. Billy Wescogame said he met with his son sometime during March or April 2006, and encouraged him to get a job, get an education, and get out of Supai. “I knew if he stayed he was going to get into a lot of trouble,” Billy Wescogame said.
Billy Wescogame said he didn’t see his son again. A few weeks later, Tomomi Hanamure’s body was found in Havasu Creek. BIA police arrested Randy Wescogame on May 31, 2006, in connection with the assault of a tribe member that occurred about a month before the murder. He was held in tribal custody until the FBI arrested him last December for the Hanamure slaying.
Randy Wescogame’s trial is set for June 26 in Prescott, Ariz. With his son facing murder, kidnapping and robbery charges that could lead to multiple life prison sentences, Billy Wescogame offered an apology that he said was addressed to Hanamure’s father. “I’m sorry, man. You know, I feel very bad,” he said.
Billy Wescogame said he thinks Randy may have been present when Hanamure was killed, but the number and angles of the stabbing wounds lead him to believe more than one assailant was involved. If his son is found guilty, though, and if the punishment were left up to him, he wouldn’t settle for life in prison. “I would go straight directly after him, and I would put him away, even if I had to paralyze him for the rest of his life,” Billy Wescogame said. “I believe in an eye for an eye.”