Justice for Kaysera
August 17, 2020
One year ago on August 14, Kaysera celebrated her 18th birthday. She played basketball and football, ran cross country, and performed in several school theatre productions. She had dreams of becoming an actress and a performer. She had a lot to look forward to.
Ten days later, on August 24, 2019, she went missing in a suburban neighborhood of Hardin, Montana, less than a half mile off of the Crow Reservation. Her body was found in the same neighborhood where she was last seen alive, on the morning of August 29. Law enforcement, however, did not inform the family that Kaysera’s body had been found until almost two weeks later, on September 11.
Since September 11, the family has worked diligently to collect and share evidence regarding Kaysera’s murder and the suspicious circumstances surrounding her tragic death. The family has shared significant evidence and tips with the FBI, the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office, and the Montana Department of Justice. So far, all three of these agencies have done absolutely nothing.
“We have been ignored,” states Grace Bulltail, Kaysera’s auntie. “We have written letters, requested meetings, made phone calls, provided witness statements—we have done all that we can possibly imagine to convince law enforcement to investigate the murder of my niece. On this day that should have been her 19th birthday, my family is asking for the support of our friends and allies across Indian Country, and all of the United States, to stand with us and demand justice for Kaysera.”
The family, together with Sovereign Bodies Institute, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and attorneys at Pipestem Law, P.C., are inviting fellow survivors, tribal leaders, advocates, non-Indian allies—and anyone who agrees that the lives of Native women and girls are to be valued—to join them in a series of events starting on August 24, the day Kaysera went missing, and ending on September 11, the day that the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office finally notified the family they had found Kaysera’s body.
Every day, from August 24 to September 11, will feature an event, webinar, or letter writing campaign designed to honor Kaysera’s memory and demand justice for her and her family from law enforcement agencies that, so far, have been complacent in their failure to investigate her murder.
“Sovereign Bodies Institute stands in solidarity with Kaysera’s family in their demand for justice,” states Annita Lucchesi, Executive Director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute. “Big Horn County and the State of Montana have a long track record of ignoring the murders of Native women and people, and they won’t charge their policies and protocols unless the public demands that we do so. Now is not the time to remain silent.”
“Shame on local and federal law enforcement for doing nothing,” states the family’s attorney Mary Kathryn Nagle, Pipestem Law. “It has been a year. Evidence has been ignored. Suspects have been allowed to walk free, unquestioned. Search warrants have not been executed. This is inexcusable. It is time to let the Montana Department of Justice, FBI, and the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office know that we hold them accountable. From August 24 to September 11, we will be asking individuals to join us in writing to public officials and law enforcement. Please join us in demanding justice for Kaysera and her family.”
“The absence of accountability at state and federal law enforcement agencies has forced our families to search for and investigate the crimes when our Native women and girls are murdered or go missing,” states Elizabeth Carr, Senior Policy Analyst at the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. “Native families should not have to do law enforcement’s job. The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center stands with Kaysera’s family in their demand for justice.”
More information about the events from August 24 to September 11 is available, and will be continuously updated, on the #JusticeForKaysera Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Justice-For-Kaysera-102859078203661
The full schedule of events will also be posted on the following website, along with letters that individuals can send on specific days in solidarity with Kaysera’s family (letters will be posted by August 24):
The current schedule of events is listed below—but please note there will be updates once links to webinars become available (and draft letters are posted). Please visit the #JusticeForKaysera Facebook page, and/or the Pipestem Law website, for updates and the most current version of the schedule.
- August 24: A vigil will held by the Family in Hardin at Mitchell Ave. & Rangeview Dr. at 6pm MST. All are welcome, but if you attend in person please wear a mask and observe social distancing.
- NIWRC will host a Twitter Storm at 3pm EST/1pm MST.
- August 25: The Family will host a webinar to provide background and updates on Kaysera’s case, featuring Grace Bulltail and Mary Kathryn Nagle at 11am MST. These webinars will be livestreamed on the #JusticeForKaysera page. Please watch the webinars by visiting this link:https://www.facebook.com/
- August 26: The Family will host a webinar on MMIW in Media, featuring journalists Connie Walker & Luella Brien at 11am MST. These webinars will be livestreamed on the #JusticeForKaysera page. Please watch the webinars by visiting this link:https://www.facebook.com/
- August 27: The Family will host a webinar on Extractive Industries & Violence against Indigenous Women, featuring Kandi Mossett White of Indigenous Environmental Network at 11am MST. These webinars will be livestreamed on the #JusticeForKaysera page. Please watch the webinars by visiting this link:https://www.facebook.com/
- August 28: The Family will host a webinar discussing MMIW Policy & Advocacy in Big Horn County, featuring SBI’s Annita Lucchesi, at 11am MST. These webinars will be livestreamed on the #JusticeForKaysera page. Please watch the webinars by visiting this link:https://www.facebook.com/
- August 29: Memorial & Closing Prayer with the Family in Hardin at Mitchell Ave. & Rangeview Dr. at 9:00am MST. All are welcome, but if you attend in person please wear a mask and observe social distancing.
- August 30: Advocates are invited to send a letter to Big Horn County Sheriff Laurence Big Hair. (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- August 31: Advocates are invited to send a letter to Terry Bullis, owner of the Bullis Mortuary. (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- September 1: NIWRC will host Twitter storm for #JusticeforKaysera at 3pm EST/1pm MST
- September 2: Advocates are invited to send a letter to the FBI. (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- September 3: Advocates are invited to send a letter to Operation Lady Justice Task Force (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- September 4: Advocates are invited to send a letter to Attorney General Tim Fox. (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- September 5: SBI hosts webinar on MMIWG issues featuring Annita Lucchesi, Grace Bulltail and other advocates and survivors at 12:00pm Mountain on Facebook Live or at Sovereign-Bodies.org.
- September 6: Advocates are invited to send a letter to Senator Tester. (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- September 7: Advocates are invited to send a letter to Senator Daines. (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- September 8: NIWRC will host a Twitter storm for #JusticeforKaysera at 3pm EST/1pm MST
- September 9: Advocates are invited to send a letter to Governor Bullock. (draft letter will be posted here on August 24: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/)
- September 10: SBI will host a final webinar featuring the voices of Big Horn County MMIWP families and sharing their stories at 12:00pm Mountain on Facebook Live or at Sovereign-Bodies.org.
- September 11: Prayer Ceremony at 9am MST, Mitchell Ave. & Rangeview Dr. All are welcome, but if you attend in person please wear a mask and observe social distancing.
“The goal of these events are first and foremost to honor the life and memory of my niece, Kaysera,” states Grace. “She would have been 19 just three short days ago, and those responsible for ending her life must be brought to justice. On this one year anniversary of her murder, my hope and prayer is that our call for justice for Kaysera will shed a light on the injustices that our Native families face not just in Big Horn County, but all across the United States.”
More information about #JusticeForKaysera may be found at: http://www.pipestemlaw.com/kaysera-stops-pretty-places/
Final Advocacy Letters
- Letter to FBI
- Letter to Montana Governor Steve Bullock
- Letter to Operation Lady Justice
- Letter to Senator Tester
- Letter to Sheriff Big Hair
- Letter to Terry Bullis
- Letter to Daines
- Letter to Attorney General Tim Fox
About the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center:
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) is a Native-led nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against Native women and children. NIWRC provides national leadership in ending gender-based violence in tribal communities by lifting up the collective voices of grassroots advocates and offering culturally grounded resources, technical assistance and training, and policy development to strengthen tribal sovereignty.
About Pipestem Law, P.C.
Pipestem Law, P.C. is a law firm dedicated to the preservation and restoration of tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction to ensure safety for Native women and children. Pipestem Law is headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma with an office in Washington, D.C.
Timeline of Kaysera Stops Pretty Places’ Murder Investigation
- August 24, 2019 – Kaysera is seen by her family for the last time in Hardin, Montana.
- August 25, 2019 – Percelia Brown Bulltail, Kaysera’s aunt, alleges that she attempts to file a missing person report with Big Horn County (“BHC”) Police but was told there was a waiting period before a report could be made.
- August 29, 2019 – Kaysera’s body is found but is not yet identified to the family. Percelia arrives on scene requesting to identify the body, but her request was denied. The body was already bagged and the BHC officer onsite refuses to confirm the possibility of it being Kaysera. No information was given to the media that a body was found.
- August 31, 2019 – Yolanda Fraser, Kaysera’s paternal grandmother and legal guardian is contacted by her brother whose granddaughter on Crow Reservation told him she read on Twitter that the body found in Hardin on August 29th is a Stops girl, 17 yrs old. Yolanda contacts Kaysera’s mother and aunt to check out the tip she received from her brother.
- September 1, 2019 – Kaysera’s mother, Geralyn Bulltail Stops, and Percelia go to Bullis Mortuary to see if the body is Kaysera’s and they were told it wasn’t her. Kaysera’s family continued to search for her and kept hope that she would return to them safely while local authorities had already found her.
- September 11, 2019 – Yolanda is notified by Percelia that the body found on August 29, 2019 was positively identified as Kaysera. Kaysera’s paternal family was never officially notified by the BHC Sheriff or BHC County Coroner that she had been found.
- September 12, 2019 – Geralyn was told by Terry Bullis, owner of Bullis Mortuary and BHC County Coroner, that Kaysera’s remains had to be cremated in order to be returned to the family. At this point, Kaysera’s remains were still at the Montana Department of Justice Crime Lab in Billings, Montana. The family had wanted Dahl funeral home in Billings to handle funeral arrangements. However, Bullis, acting either in his coroner role or funeral director role, made the family use his funeral home and immediately ordered Kaysera’s cremation before other family members were able to arrive in Hardin. Grace and Cedar Bulltail, maternal aunts to Kaysera, arrived at Bullis Mortuary after Bullis spoke with Geralyn and accepted payment from her. Bullis, assumed to be acting in his role as coroner, told Kaysera’s aunts that the date of her death was August 26, 2019.
- September 12, 2019 – Yolanda, Alan Stops (Kaysera’s father) and other family members attempt to visit the site where Kaysera’s body was found but could not find the site because there was no crime scene tape or demarcation of where the body had been found. They also stopped at Bullis Mortuary, but they were closed.
- September 14, 2019 – Yolanda, Alan, and other family members find the site with the help of relatives who live across the street from where Kaysera’s body was found. They were shocked to find the location was highly visual and in an extremely high traffic area. The neighborhood is vibrant and alive with activity. They gain permission to access the site in order to perform a cultural ceremony. While there, they speak with the neighbor, Jason Cummings—who found Kaysera’s body—who said he watched the police remove Kaysera’s phone from her pocket and he told them to charge it so they could find her family. Mr. Cummings said he also questioned the officer as to why the scene was not secured.
- September16, 2019 – Yolanda reaches out to Deputy Attorney General Melissa Schlichting requesting information on the missing person report for Kaysera, and was informed that Montana does not have a waiting period for a missing person’s report, that a person 21 and under is considered a child case and should be listed as a priority. Schlichting said it would take a few days to retrieve the information.
- September 16, 2019 – Yolanda goes to Bullis Mortuary, the funeral home of BHC County Coroner Terry Bullis, for Kaysera’s visitation and found that her remains were not there. Bullis’ sister said they would arrive in 45 minutes. When they didn’t arrive, they were told that her remains might not be there for the funeral the next day and that they were closing soon at 4pm. The family refuses to leave, forcing the mortuary to stay open over an hour late, waiting for the ashes to arrive. Kaysera’s ashes finally arrive at 5:30 pm. Yolanda and her son Alan were not notified by Bullis in his capacity as the County Coroner nor as a Mortician regarding the arrangements or decision to cremate Kaysera despite Yolanda being Kaysera’s legal guardian and Alan being her biological father. Geralyn Bulltail Stops, Kaysera’s mother, was told by Bullis that Kaysera’s remains had to be cremated. Geralyn’s family was not comfortable with this particularly since they do know what happened to her and that cremation is against their cultural beliefs. Kaysera’s mother went ahead with the coroner/funeral director’s directive despite not consulting Yolanda or Alan so that Kaysera would be returned to the family. After Kaysera’s visitation service, Bullis told the family that the autopsy report would be another three to four weeks and then proceeded to tell them that when the toxicology report arrives, it will “show there was drug or alcohol use detected that the cause would be exposure to alcohol or substance.” He also informed the family that Kaysera’s death certificate would be pending until the report is received.
- September 18, 2019 – Yolanda and Alan deliver notarized requests to the BHC Attorney’s office for all reports regarding Kaysera’s case.
- September 19, 2019 – Yolanda’s family calls a Billings Gazette reporter, Juliana Sukut, because there was no media coverage reporting that a body was found 22 days ago and had been identified as Kaysera on September 11th. Ms. Sukut apologized, saying that the BHC Sheriff’s Department did not tell them about finding a body or that identification had been made despite the fact that the Gazette calls daily for updates.
- September 19, 2019 – Yolanda, Alan, and other family members meet with the investigating officer, Captain Mike Fuss of the BHC Sheriff’s Office after numerous attempts to meet with him. Captain Fuss was confused as to who they were. He thought they were there wanting to talk regarding a cell phone that was found near the site. Yolanda introduced herself as Kaysera’s legal guardian and Fuss said he thought Percelia was her legal guardian because she told him she was Kaysera’s legal guardian. Yolanda informed him she had a copy of her guardianship papers to give him and asked if Percelia gave him any documentation. Fuss deflected the question by saying that Percelia said she was Kaysera’s mother. When asked why he never contacted or met with them or returned their numerous calls, Fuss said he had been busy with his other cases and that’s why he hadn’t returned the family’s phone calls. When asked why the site wasn’t secured and taped off, Fuss said that if the investigating officer gets to a crime scene first, they don’t have to secure it, it’s only when the police show up before the investigator that the police have to secure the crime scene. When the family asked Fuss about why no one charged Kaysera’s phone and turned it on, he was surprised they knew about it and said the battery was dead. The family said they could have charged it and looked at her recent communications, he said that they couldn’t get into that kind of phone, even the FBI can’t break into that type of phone. Yolanda and Alan sign a Release of Information form for Kaysera’s cell phone and social media accounts. Fuss tells Yolanda that he had taken over for the first investigator, Jeremy Middlestead. When asked why he took over the investigation, he said “because [Middlestead] couldn’t handle it”. Fuss went on to say that Terry Bullis had “snatched the body from the crime lab” and he had to get it and take it back, which explained the defensive remark by Bullis’ sister on the day of the visitation that the body had to be taken back to the crime lab by police escort. Fuss appeared angry when the family told him they had put out a $5K award for any information. During this meeting, Fuss was also insinuating that she had died from alcohol poisoning and had died in the spot she was found. Fuss also stated that the body was found at 6:43 p.m., but the newspaper said she was found in the morning.
- September 19, 2019 – Yolanda and Alan deliver a notarized request to Terry Bullis at his mortuary for all reports regarding Kaysera’s case.
- September 19, 2019 – Grace and Cedar Bulltail meet with BHC Attorney Jay Harris and Liaison Devaney Buffalo. Harris told Grace that he was unsure who was leading the investigation due to reorganization and general turmoil in the sheriff’s office. He also pointed out that the coroner, Terry Bullis, had a potential conflict of interest as the county coroner and a business owner of the funeral home. Harris also said that Bullis tends to quickly make the determination of the cause death as exposure to alcohol and natural causes under his charge as coroner. Up to this point, no one in the family had been interviewed by investigators. The family had not been asked for basic information such as Kaysera’s phone number or service provider. The family had to insist that the county attorney examine phone records and contents be considered by investigators. Also, Grace could not get a clear answer when she asked Harris if law enforcement were looking into Kaysera’s social media accounts for evidence. During the meeting, the county attorney behaved in a discourteous manner to Kaysera’s family members and often made facetious remarks such as “How do you know that nothing is being done?”
- September 21, 2019 – BHC Sheriff Lawrence Big Hair meets with Cedar Bulltail at her home. He informs Cedar that Terry Bullis had taken Kaysera’s remains several times from the crime lab in Billings. The sheriff stated that the coroner/funeral director had “snatched” Kaysera’s remains and he had to take the body back to the crime lab for further analysis.
- September 23, 2019 – Yolanda is notified by Deputy Attorney General Melissa Schlichting that there was no Missing Child Report filed for Kaysera and she was not in the Missing Persons Database.
- September 23, 2019 – MMIW March for Kaysera is held from the crime scene to the BHC Courthouse.
- September 26, 2019 – Yolanda and Alan make a second attempt to obtain Kaysera’s death certificate after being advised by the BHC County Clerk and Recorder to ask Bullis for details related to her death that were required for the application. Bullis tried to persuade them not to seek a death certification citing “pending investigation” because it would take too long and that they had to go see the Clerk and Recorder for this. Yolanda and Alan attempted to submit a notarized letter in accordance with the application at the Clerk and Recorders Office, but the Deputy Clerk didn’t want to take the application and kept handing it back to them telling them that Bullis handles the death certificates. The Deputy Clerk admitted that she had never handled a case like this, so they decided to send the application in via certified mail along with payment to make sure it was received.
- September 27, 2019 – Yolanda calls her son Justin to tell him to call the hotline with a tip because she doesn’t put much trust in it. The dispatcher tells Justin there is no officer there to take the call. She refuses to take his tip and says that an officer must receive the tip from him directly. She said that an officer would call back around 7 pm, but Justin did not receive a call back until 9:30 pm from Officer Middlestead.
- September 30, 2019 – Yolanda and Alan meet with the BHC Sheriff Big Hair and Undersheriff Clinton Iron where she was told that they should have been informed on August 29, 2019 that there was a possibility that the body could have been Kaysera’s. Yolanda asked why the biological father and legal guardian were not notified of her death. Because they were not notified, Kaysera was cremated against their cultural beliefs and crucial evidence may have been destroyed. Sheriff Big Hair indicated that they should have been notified. They didn’t provide additional information as to why Kaysera’s body was moved from the crime lab to the funeral home and back. They blamed Bullis for removing her body. Yolanda told him that she knew Bullis had previously been in trouble with the state board. When asked why the FBI wasn’t called in on the case, Sheriff Big Hair said they can be if the family wanted them to take the case. The Sheriff said to write up a statement regarding the September 19, 2019 meeting with Officer Fuss. He also said he signed the family up with the Victim’s Advocate who would update them about the case.
- September 30, 2019 – Tiffany Glenn, Kaysera’s aunt, reaches out to the FBI and requests an investigation into the death of her niece. The FBI told her that they cannot investigate her niece’s death because they needed more evidence confirming that Kaysera’s murder occurred on the reservation before they would conduct an investigation. However, there is no evidence supporting that Kaysera’s death occurred off the reservation. The FBI’s hasty decision not to investigate Kaysera’s death is deeply disturbing because the FBI should not be so quick to excuse itself from its federal trust duty and obligation to protect Native women and children.
- September 30, 2019 –Yolanda, Karisandra, and Alan post reward posters in Hardin, and Lame Deer.
- October 7, 2019 – Yolanda attempts to call Victim Advocate Devaney Buffalo with the phone number Sheriff Big Hair gave her. She receives no response and leaves a message.
- October 8, 2019 – Yolanda emails the Victims Advocate in an attempt to reach her and sends a list of questions about Kaysera’s case.
- October 8, 2019 – Yolanda receives a call from Victim Advocate Devaney Buffalo who informs her that she has been calling her office number and that she is only there for appointments. She gave Yolanda her cell number. Devaney says she will work on answers for the questions, but that she will have to call her back next week because she is at a training in Billings. Devaney says Officer Crookshank has been assigned to assist Officer Fuss with the case. When asked about reports, she says that an autopsy report is not generally given out, but the family can ask for a coroner’s report. When told about Officer Fuss’ statement that he had to replace Officer Middlestead, Devaney says Officer Fuss is a captain and takes all the big cases.
- October 16, 2019 – The county attorney insists that Kaysera’s family members submit a Request for Criminal Justice Information for all inquiries. Grace sent a letter requesting a police report, missing person report, list of witnesses interviewed, and coroner’s report be sent to the family attorney. None of this information has been released to the family or their legal counsel. The county attorney has not returned any emails to the family including those requesting a meeting with him.
- October 21, 2019 – Yolanda and her family submit a letter to Sheriff Lawrence Big Hair regarding the September 19, 2019 meeting with Investigator Mike Fuss that left them feeling like they were not being taken seriously and that Kaysera’s death was not being properly investigated. As of February 25, 2020, there has been no response regarding Yolanda’s letter pertaining to the meeting with Mike Fuss.
- October 29, 2019 – Yolanda submits a formal Request for Criminal Justice Information to BHC Attorney Jay Harris. Included in her request are specific questions she has regarding the circumstances regarding Kaysera’s murder and tips the family had received from the community. As of February 25, 2020 there has been no response regarding Yolanda’s formal request for Criminal Justice Information.
- October 30, 2019 – Protest for Justice for Kaysera is held at BHC Court House.
- November 20, 2019 – Grace reaches out to the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula and was told that the autopsy report was not complete and could take 12-16 weeks to be completed. She was told that the autopsy was conducted on August 27, 2019, but Kaysera’s body was reportedly found on August 29, 2019.
- November 19, 2019 – Yolanda calls the FBI seeking assistance, but receives no response so she leaves a message.
- November 19, 2019 – Yolanda, Alan and Rae Peppers meet with BHC County Attorney Jay Harris. Mr. Harris is defensive throughout the entire the meeting. When Yolanda asked why no official has interviewed her or Kaysera’s father about Kaysera’s health or anything at all, Mr. Harris folded his arms across his chest and tells Yolanda he doesn’t feel comfortable and doesn’t know if he can meet with the family and is not sure what he can tell them. Yolanda gives Mr. Harris a media release highlighting his supervisory role over all suspicious deaths and homicides, which is why she sought a meeting with him since the sheriff nor investigation officers had answers. Importantly, Mr. Harris is offended by Yolanda’s use of the term “murder” when referring to Kaysera’s cause of death. When Yolanda asked why the family had not received any reports as requested on September 18, 2019, Mr. Harris informed them that a special form was necessary when requesting such reports. She states that they had not been informed that a form was needed and had been waiting and inquiring about the status of the reports. Mr. Harris wrote down Yolanda’s questions as if he has never heard of them despite a formal request sent to his office on October 29, 2019 requesting answers to the same questions. Yolanda filed the necessary form during this meeting. Yolanda’s worst fears are confirmed as Mr. Harris tells her there was a gap in active investigation for Kaysera’s case. The first week the body was found in late August, the investigation halted due to personnel issues and there was no officer to assign to her case after Officer Middlestead recused himself from the case.
- November 20, 2019 – Yolanda and Alan attend a DOJ MIP in Lame Deer seeking resources and help to get justice for Kaysera.
- December 18, 2019 – Grace asks Terry Bullis about the progress of the coroner’s report. Bullis states that he did tell Geralyn that Kaysera’s remains had to be cremated for her to be returned to her family for burial. When Grace asked if that was the only way, he said “it was the simplest and easiest way” to have the remains handled. He states that the county attorney has taken over all aspects of Kaysera’s case and that it is out of his hands. When Bullis was asked why the family has had to wait for the autopsy report since it had been 16 weeks since it was completed, he flippantly states that he has cases that have been out way longer than that. Grace states that she paid Terry Bullis for his services and has a right to obtain information from him. He says that she paid the funeral home. The name of the business, Bullis Mortuary, has his family name in the title but Bullis shifts between his role as coroner and business owner when it is convenient for him to avoid accountability to Kaysera’s family.
- December 18, 2019 – Protest for Justice for Kaysera is held at BHC Court House.
- December 19, 2019 – Grace speaks to Melissa Schlichting, Deputy Attorney General for Montana after writing several letters to the Attorney General’s office. Melissa states that the date of the autopsy was August 30, 2019 not August 27, 2019 as the family had been told by the MT DOJ forensic science division. Melissa did not know when the official autopsy report would be complete or that if when it was completed, that it would be released to the family. Grace expressed that the family was receiving no information from BHC officials and was asking the MT DOJ for the information they could provide to the family and legal counsel. Melissa stated that the MT DOJ works to assist criminal justice efforts directly to county officials in the state. Again, Grace asked for Attorney General Fox to meet with Kaysera’s family members and Melissa stated she would set up a meeting. Kaysera’s family members have not been contacted to meet with the Attorney General.
- January 8, 2020 – Protest for Justice for Kaysera and Selena Not Afraid is held at BHC Court House.
- February 6-7, 2020 – Yolanda and her sister Melissa attend a DOJ Taskforce meeting in Billings, MT seeking resources to obtain justice for Kaysera.
- February 23 and 24, 2020 – Sovereign Bodies Institute organizes and hosts a series of community meetings and vigils in Big Horn County for the families of homicide victims in Yellowstone, Rosebud, and Big Horn Counties. Yolanda attends and advocates for justice on Kaysera’s case.
Dr. Grace Bulltail statement to U.S. Department of Justice Operation Lady Justice Listening Session May 9, 2020
My niece Kaysera Stops Pretty Places had just turned 18 years old and went missing in Big Horn County, Montana in late August. Big Horn County has the most reported cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in the state of Montana, and among the highest rates of MMIW in the U.S. When we reported Kaysera missing, there was no missing person’s report filed. When her body was discovered in Hardin five days later, she remained unidentified for two weeks. Her mother went to the funeral home also run by the county coroner and she was told that the body of her daughter was not there. We continued to report Kaysera missing to Big Horn County (BHC) law enforcement who still did not ever file a missing report for her. There was no report of the discovery of Jane Doe body in the media or by law enforcement.
After learning that the crime lab took two weeks to identify Kaysera, and that the county coroner had taken her remains before she was identified, that the turmoil in the BHC sheriff’s office led to delays in investigating, and that no one in our family was interviewed about her death even after she was identified, I have no other conclusion to come to other than the law enforcement did not care to give Kaysera the dignity of treating her as a human being, let alone a girl that was a victim of crime. She did not choose to end up deceased in a stranger’s yard only to be discovered several days after she died. Based on my family’s interactions with Big Horn County and the Montana Department of Justice (MT DOJ) they do not care and can’t be bothered. Kaysera’s death is not their problem. If the weak link in this system is law enforcement that needs to be addressed in your task force with people who oversee justice in Montana.
Days before she went missing, Kaysera had filmed and posted to social media the beating of her 15-year-old brother by law enforcement at Crow Fair. The officers beating a minor who was in a wheelchair at the time included Big Horn County deputies. As a result of the footage, an investigation was conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Division and officers were reprimanded. Again, no one in our family, not a legal guardian, or the minor victim were interviewed or asked to give testimony about this event. We have reason to believe a BHC deputy under investigation was a responding officer to the scene when Kaysera’s body was discovered. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek informed me that we will have to submit a FOIA for the investigation proceedings. I have disclosed this information to Montana MMIP Coordinator Ernie Weyand in both written and verbal statements.
Our family has had to navigate this unjust system on our own with no advocacy from any task force. We have pushed back, marched, protested and demanded that the county and state do more or even do something. We have repeatedly asked our Montana elected officials for help from the Montana Attorney General to U.S. Senators and calls for assistance have gone unheard. In response to the march and rally for Justice for Kaysera shortly after her funeral, the BHC attorney announced the formation of the county murdered persons task force. Essentially the county attorney would be taking over investigations of suspicious deaths. Well here is the reality of this: the county attorney is not an investigator, he is not a medical examiner, nor is he a forensic expert. How does he presume that he can complete the duties of these other departments and specialists while acting as the attorney? This is the kind of irresponsible foolishness my family continues to encounter from the county attorney and officials. The entire county law enforcement has already grossly mishandled Kaysera’s case, it should not be an experimental trial case for the county attorney’s ill-equipped task force.
I filed a complaint to the Montana state board of funeral services against the license of county coroner and funeral director Terry Bullis. Kaysera’s mother was told by Terry Bullis that Kaysera’s remains would have to be cremated in order for our family to receive them. Cremation is against our cultural beliefs, not to mention we did not have a cause of death. In addition, he told our family that the autopsy report would come back and show cause of death as “exposure as a result of substance or alcohol use”. Terry Bullis did not disclose that he took Kaysera’s remains from the crime lab before the pathologist had identified her body. The sheriff’s office stated that Kaysera’s remains had to be taken back to crime lab with a police escort. I am awaiting the state board’s review of the complaint and investigation to receive more information about the two week period when we had not been notified of Kaysera’s death. Terry Bullis has been reprimanded by the state board for violations involving another Indigenous woman in Big Horn County.
The medical examiner at the state crime lab, Dr. Robert Kurtzman finally returned my call and answered my questions about Kaysera’s autopsy and the chain of custody of her remains. Dr. Kurtzman also shared that the county attorney had been ordering extensive toxicology tests looking for any drug that can possibly be tested for because the county attorney indicated he suspected drug use. Absolutely no sign of drug use was found. Kaysera is a victim of a crime, despite the victim blaming narrative of the county attorney in charge of the investigation in Big Horn County.
Meanwhile, our families are left with no police reports and no answers. Our families must seek information from dismissive elected officials, without any support from the designated task force. The Big Horn County attorney made our family wait 15 weeks for an autopsy report. Now, he refuses to speak with us and will not release any additional information. Due to the coroner’s actions, we were not able to give Kaysera a proper burial. We must fight for any information we can receive on her case.
Even after U.S. Attorney General Barr announced the formation of the Operation Lady Justice task force on MMIW two months after we learned of Kaysera’s death, nothing changed for our family’s quest for answers and justice. As Montana is a priority, I reached out to the US Attorney’s office asking for assistance from the federal MMIW task force. I was eventually connected to the Missing Indigenous Persons (“MMIP”) coordinator in Montana who told us that they had to defer to Big Horn County officials.
In October 2019, Melissa Schlichting, Assistant Attorney General of the MT DOJ, told me that her department could not do anything unless the county asked for assistance. Well, the county finally did ask, and the MT DOJ told them no. The Assistant Attorney General said that the MT DOJ Department of Criminal Investigation did not have the capacity to investigate Kaysera’s case after they had accepted a more recent MMIW case in Big Horn County. What happens then? The county admits they cannot investigate, the BHC attorney is in over his head with his ill-equipped county murdered persons task force and is ready to hand it over to those who can adequately work the case. And now all the MT DOJ can tell me is that the BHC is in charge of the investigation? What about the FBI? Where is the US DOJ MMIP specialist who I have also spoken to several times?
I asked the Assistant Attorney General what the Montana task force can do for us. She said that her role was to inform legislation on the issue and that the members would be submitting a report within the year. I am still asking what can anyone do to help us? Jurisdiction is problem for many MMIW cases in Big Horn County. However, Kaysera was found in Hardin, less than half a mile from the Crow reservation. This should be less of a jurisdictional issue for the state agency to help us.
While Montana has the MMIP, task force, there is no advocacy for murdered Indigenous people in the Montana Department of Justice. We need actual advocacy. The objective of Montana’s task force is not to give our girls justice. Even the next phase of the states missing persons task force, according to their own website, has no intent to address murdered Indigenous people. How convenient for the state task force to have the misleading acronym MMIP, Montana being substituted for murdered, this is accurate and appallingly strategic.
Our girl is not a missing person anymore, she is a murdered person and we need assistance. And I am wondering will the state MMIP and the USDOJ task force reports include the shortcomings with the justice system, that really are just excuses to our family, for not doing anything about Kaysera’s death?
Here is something constructive: make recommendations for addressing this broken system that COULD help MMIW families. Create an advocate and fund a system that will reach out to families so they will be made aware of the Jane Does missing and located near tribal communities. The burden should not be solely on grieving families. And yes, we that have had to be our own advocates will be here pushing you to do right by our girls every step of the way.
FBI Response to Senator Tester
On January 7, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”) responded to Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) November 20, 2019 letter regarding the FBI’s efforts to investigate crimes, specifically Kaysera’s case, in Indian Country. It took the FBI 48 days to respond to Senator Tester’s plea that the FBI investigate Kaysera’s case, and the FBI has abdicated its duty to do so and instead directed Senator Tester to send his inquiries to the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office alone. The FBI’s failure to abide its federal trust duty and obligation to investigate Kaysera’s case—merely because her body was found half a mile off the reservation—is deeply disappointing.
On February 6, 2020, Kaysera’s family sent a letter to Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence Big Hair and Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris urging Sheriff Big Hair to request the FBI’s assistance in Kaysera’s case. The family has not received a response from the County Attorney or Sheriff Big Hair.
- DemocracyNow.org: Native Teen’s Mysterious Death Highlights Epidemic of Murdered Indigenous Women
- Billings gazette: ‘Her life was worth everything’: March planned for woman found dead in Hardin
- Billings gazette: March, rally held in Hardin to demand justice for young woman found dead
- Montana Kaimin: Family seeks answers after Crow woman’s death
- Billings gazette: Girl’s death, MMIW march prompt creation of missing persons task force in Big Horn County
- Billings gazette: Vigil remembers Native American victims of violence, calls for change
- Patreon: Kaysera Stops Pretty Places
- Billings gazette: No cause of death found for Kaysera Stops Pretty Places; investigation still active