Sarah Lee Died While in Police Custody

By Sarah Sunshine Manning

Sarah Lee

On July 6, 24-year-old Sarah Lee Circle Bear of Clairmont, South Dakota, was found unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen. Circle Bear was jailed on a bond violation.

Witnesses stated that before being transferred to a holding cell, Circle Bear pleaded to jailers that she was in excruciating pain. Jail staff allegedly responded by dismissing her cries for help, telling her to “knock it off,” and “quit faking.” Witnesses say that inmates cried out for the jail staff to help Circle Bear, to which they eventually responded by picking her up off of the floor, dragging her out of the cell, and transferring her to a holding cell. Circle Bear was later found unresponsive in the holding cell.

I recently learned about Sarah Lee Circle Bear while attending a family ceremonial gathering. A relative set out a memorial chair for Sarah, a tradition of the Dakota and Lakota people. Sarah’s story was shared, and the circle prayed for her and her family for four days. In that time, we all connected with Sarah as a relative. She is one of us. She had life. She was young, beautiful, and she had a future. Sarah was also a mother. Two precious sons, age one and two, are now without their mom.

The family of Sarah Lee Circle Bear continues to grieve, and meanwhile seek justice for their beloved daughter. They are presently looking into different options for lawyers, and fear that without the right lawyer they may miss an opportunity for justice for Sarah.

While the family and loved ones await the results of a toxicology report, the fact remains that Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a beautiful young woman worthy of life, appears to have been blatantly neglected and treated cruelly by the jail staff while in their care.

When any person is taken into custody and under the care of law enforcement, it is their right to receive appropriate medical attention and just treatment. This does not appear to be the case with Sarah Lee Circle Bear, and in the state of South Dakota where Native Americans are the largest minority and hate crimes are reported at high levels, it is time to demand a thorough investigation into her neglect and her death. It is time to demand better treatment of Native women, and justice for Sarah.

Brown County Jail authorities refused comment.

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