Ashlynne Mike's father sues Navajo Nation

Civil complaint claims tribe could have prevented the 11-year-old girl's death if it had an emergency notification system in place

Noel Lyn Smith
A memorial for Ashlynne Mike is pictured on Tuesday near her home in Lower Fruitland.
  • Ashlynne Mike's father has filed a civil complaint against the tribe and its Division of Public Safety and Department of Law Enforcement.
  • Ashlynne was found dead on May 3, and Tom Begaye Jr. has been charged in connection to her kidnapping and murder.
  • Gary Mike's complaint says the tribe had "numerous opportunities" to develop an emergency notification system by using two federal grants.
  • Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye says he does not know why "the previous administration didn’t pursue establishing such a system."

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The father of a slain 11-year-old Navajo girl is suing the tribe for failing to have an emergency notification system in place that he claims would have saved his daughter's life.

Ashlynne Mike's father, Gary Mike, has filed a civil complaint against the tribe and its Division of Public Safety and Department of Law Enforcement. The complaint does not include a request for compensation, and it demands a jury trial.

The complaint also names Navajo Nation police Capt. Ivan Tsosie, who oversaw the Shiprock police department when Ashlynne was kidnapped on May 2, along with her brother, Ian Mike, while they were walking home from school in San Juan Chapter.

The complaint accuses Tsosie of mishandling the investigation. Tsosie could not be reached for comment today. ​

Ashlynne was found dead on May 3, about 6 miles south of the Shiprock pinnacle. Tom Begaye Jr., of Waterflow, has been charged in connection to her kidnapping and murder.

Gary Mike filed a missing person report for his daughter at 6:53 p.m. May 2, and the FBI was not notified until 9 p.m., the complaint states. A search was not initiated until after 2 a.m. May 3 and an Amber Alert was issued at 2:30 a.m.

Ashlynne was found dead at about 11:30 a.m. May 3.

Begaye, who was arrested the same day Ashlynne's body was found, told police the girl was still moving when he left her bleeding in the desert, according to the criminal complaint against him. He pleaded not guilty to murder, sexual abuse and other charges in June in federal court.

"If a concentrated search had been begun immediately upon the making of the report, it would have saved her life. …The entire investigation and search was mishandled, and the Navajo Nation’s own failings directly contributed to Ashlynne’s death," the complaint states.

A teddy bear hangs on a sign post on Tuesday near a makeshift memorial for Ashlynne Mike located south of Shiprock.

The complaint, which was filed last month in Shiprock District Court, says the tribe had "numerous opportunities" to develop an emergency notification system by using two federal grants.

The grants from the U.S. Department of Justice — $330,000 in 2007 and $357,000 in 2011 — were intended for programs that might have made a difference, according to the complaint.

The complaint states the 2007 grant, reportedly intended to help the tribe create an Amber Alert system, was used for other projects and items and for employee bonuses for the Department of Law Enforcement and Division of Public Safety. About $179,651 of the amount awarded in 2007 was not spent and was returned to the Justice Department.

The tribe’s Division of Public Safety received a federal grant for $357,000 in 2011 to implement sex offender registration and notification programs, according to information on the Justice Department's website.

The grant was awarded to help the tribe upgrade its fingerprint identification system to share information with national databases and "enhance information technology resources" by buying computers, hard drives and scanners.

The complaint states "all of these funds were misused and the system was never put in place."

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye issued a statement to The Daily Times tonight acknowledging that under previous administrations, funds were secured to implement an Amber Alert system.

"We don’t know why the previous administration didn’t pursue establishing such a system on the Navajo Nation," the president said in the statement. "However, we are thankful that we now have a system in place."

Messages from the community are written on a poster for Ashlynne Mike on display inside the lobby of the Farmington Civic Center on May 6.

Shortly after Ashlynne's death, Begaye created a task force to implement an emergency notification system on the reservation.

A press release from the president’s office last week stated the tribe had made progress on the system. Tribal officials said the system should be fully functional within a couple of weeks and training for law enforcement was expected to start this month.

"Since the death of our daughter, the Navajo Nation has worked diligently to establish an Amber Alert and 911 system," the president said in the statement. "The Amber Alert is in effect and has been utilized a few times since implementation in the protection of our children."

Attorney David Jordan, who is representing Gary Mike and his family, said today that his clients want to "vindicate" Ashlynne’s life by having the Navajo Nation acknowledge its wrongdoing.

"They filed the complaint to get some justice for their daughter. The Navajo Nation had all the means and ability to put in place a structure that would have saved her life and they funneled that money away in kind of a shameless way," Jordan said.

He added the family did not file the lawsuit to gain publicity but "because they want justice."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.