Agency that sued feds to get withheld investigative report on alleged crimes at Haskell says documents it received aren’t what it asked for
photo by: Journal-World File
Updated at 3:28 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7
A nonprofit that earlier this year filed a lawsuit against the federal agency overseeing Haskell Indian Nations University to obtain an investigative report of alleged crimes that took place on campus has finally received documents.
However, the agency says the more than 500 pages of material provided to it by the Bureau of Indian Education last week are not what it had requested at all, and it’s escalating that concern to the assistant U.S. attorney for the district in which it filed suit: Washington, D.C. Assistant U.S. attorneys, sometimes referred to as “federal prosecutors,” are government lawyers who act as the federal government’s lawyers in civil litigation suits in which the U.S. is a party.
As the Journal-World has reported, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — a government watchdog nonprofit that, in part, assists public employees in fighting for accountability and transparency in government actions — sued the BIE in late July after the bureau withheld hundreds of pages of records related to a previous Freedom of Information Act request.
PEER’s request, filed in April, was prompted by the Journal-World’s recent coverage of a group of Haskell students’ demands that a six-month investigation that purportedly took place on campus be made public. The students alleged that sexual assaults, embezzlement, theft and other crimes had been uncovered via a BIE investigation.
Now, PEER is claiming that the material the BIE has provided was not only an insufficient response to its request but is unrelated entirely.
“Our principal issue … is that we did not get the report we asked for but something different,” Jeff Ruch, who submitted the FOIA request on PEER’s behalf, told the Journal-World via email Monday afternoon.
What was in the 528 pages of documents provided in response to the request was not a report of a completed investigation but instead a “collection of statements, memos (and) emails with no findings,” according to the letter Ruch said PEER is sending to the assistant U.S. attorney. Indeed, the documents appear to largely consist of heavily redacted screenshots of email and text conversations, and they also appear to not be related to the allegations laid out by the Haskell student group but instead an earlier investigation of “allegations of harassing conduct” against former Haskell cross country coach Clay Mayes.
Mayes was removed from his role in late 2021 following allegations of misconduct, and in late July submitted a petition for reinstatement with the BIE. In that letter sent to BIE Director Tony Dearman, Mayes disputes any findings in that investigation as “false” or even “just plain made up,” and says that Dearman and other Haskell officials told him during the course of those events that his employment with the BIE would be reinstated.
Mayes also called for the release of reports about the investigation into his conduct — which appears to have been conducted by the U.S. Postal Service, according to the documents in PEER’s information request — and the investigation students previously asked to be released.
But another issue, PEER’s letter states, is that this material was collected during the wrong period of 2022 — the documents say the investigation was conducted between Feb. 24, 2022, and May 6, 2022, then submitted in mid-July. PEER maintains that it requested the investigatory report compiled in the latter half of 2022, which is indeed the language used in the original FOIA request.
“What BIE did provide was a series of documents, statement(s) and emails … from an independent contract investigation ordered by BIE in November 2021 to be conducted by Wendy Blanchard, U.S. Postal Service, on a different matter — alleged misconduct/harassment by Haskell cross country coach Clay Mayes,” the letter reads.
As the Journal-World has reported, at least one student at Haskell who alleges to have been subject to sexual abuse on campus has come forward publicly. That student, Tierra Thomas, told the Journal-World in September that she was sexually abused by a fellow Haskell student in April of 2022 and has since reported what she experienced “over 30 times” to 18 employees at Haskell and the university’s Board of Regents to no avail.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include information about Mayes’ letter to Dearman.