It’s disconcerting that the tragedy of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike’s rape and murder near Shiprock is followed by claims that the various law enforcement agencies failed to communicate effectively while they scrambled to find the girl and her killer.
Communications between the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, Navajo Police and State Police were so poor that two sheriff’s detectives had stopped and were talking to suspect Tom Begaye Jr. while the girl’s body was being recovered Monday morning.
Lacking information they should have had from Navajo Police – and thus the probable cause needed to arrest Begaye – the detectives let him go.
Fortunately, a tip later that day led police to Begaye, who is now charged with murder and two counts of kidnapping. Without that tip, Begaye, who may have become desperate, could still be on the loose, despite the best efforts of the sheriff’s office, the police in Shiprock, State Police and the FBI.
Sheriff Ken Christesen said poor communication and a “lack of leadership and responsiveness” on the part of tribal police has been a problem between the two agencies for years. A reporter’s attempts to get a response to Christesen’s claims from Shiprock Police Capt. Ivan Tsosie were unsuccessful.
In the aftermath of this horrific incident, it’s imperative the law enforcement agencies involved come together to work out relations and protocols for future incidents. Lives depend on communication and cooperation.
While we’re on the topic of protocols, it needs to be pointed out that the federal Amber Alert system worked as it was designed to – despite claims that it went out too late and calls by San Juan Chapter President Rick Nez for the Navajo Nation to create its own Amber Alert system.
State Police spokesman Sgt. Chad Pierce correctly responded that well-reasoned Amber Alert protocols are in place to ensure they remain effective.
“If an Amber Alert went out all the time without the vetting process, it would be like a car alarm” that everyone ignores, he said.
He’s right. But interagency cooperation would help.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.