Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket

 Questionable Shootings Raise Tensions in Custer County

Indian Country Today Media Network
Within the heart of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal jurisdiction in western Oklahoma sits Custer County. The county’s namesake made a name for himself as an “Indian Fighter” by attacking Black Kettle’s village on the Washita River in 1868—four years after Black Kettle survived the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.

In the past few years, Custer has found itself linked again to the mysterious deaths of Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members. On June 28, 2012, police officers in the city of Clinton, within Custer County, shot and killed 34-year-old Benjamin Whiteshield outside of their police station. According to the Oklahoman, Whiteshield’s family took him to the police station to get help for an alleged delusional episode. The report said that Whiteshield was armed with a crescent wrench, but nothing in the news report stated whether or not he threatened or attacked any police officers.

The end of 2013 saw another Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal member, Mah-hi-vist (Red Bird) Touching Cloud Goodblanket, die under questionable circumstances. Although details of the case are still pending and under investigation, several details have surfaced about the shooting near Clinton.
Before December 21, 18-year-old Goodblanket had his whole life ahead of him. Raised in a traditional home, he had already toured Europe as a youth ambassador in his early teens. Graduating high school one year ahead of schedule, he began his college education at Haskell Indian Nations University and was in the midst of transferring to the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribal College in nearby Weatherford, which is also in Custer County. He had also met the love of his young life.
“I would say that this young man was full of love, respect and honor for all ancient knowledge, tribal customs, and ceremonies,” said his mother, Melissa Goodblanket. “Fun-loving, he liked to make people laugh. Always had a hello for all his relatives, wherever he may have seen them.”

Goodblanket said that her son had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder four years previously, and had triggers that caused him to become upset on occasion. On the night of Goodblanket’s death, the family was preparing to attend a Native American Church service near El Reno, east of Clinton, in neighboring Canadian County. Goodblanket’s girlfriend had been visiting the family at their home, and the plan was to drop her off at her family’s home in Weatherford. However, Goodblanket misunderstood and thought his girlfriend was leaving him to end the relationship. In anger, he broke his bedroom window and damaged parts of the home.
Goodblanket’s father, Wilbur Goodblanket, called 911.

“My son was tearing up things,” said Wilbur. “He was breaking things. We were more concerned for him hurting himself. I was talking to him at the same time as I was [talking to 911]. At some point, I remember hanging up, because I was trying to calm him down also. We were standing outside, in front of the house.”

Goodblanket’s mother called 911 a second time, asking when assistance would arrive. The parents weren’t concerned about their own safety as much as for their son’s well-being. Although Melissa said she didn’t see a weapon, she told 911 “I think he has a knife.”

An ambulance and officers arrived on the scene, according to accounts from both the Goodblanket family and the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribal Tribune. Melissa Goodblanket said she requested an assessment from the paramedics. “I was ignored,” she said. Wilbur Goodblanket asked the officers “Don’t shoot my son. Tase him.”

Four officers—two from the Custer County Sheriff’s Department and two Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers—entered the home while the Goodblanket family waited outside. Melissa and Wilbur Goodblanket said it wasn’t long—no more than 45 seconds—until their son’s girlfriend ran out of the house screaming “They shot Bird.”

When the body of Mah-hi-vist was brought out of the house, he was already bagged to be transported to Oklahoma City for the medical examiner's office. Melissa insisted that she be allowed to pray over her son, which was allowed by investigators. It would be another five days—Thursday January 26—when Melissa and Wilbur would see the body of their son at the funeral home. Wilbur said that he counted seven entry wounds.

Indian Country Today Media Network asked Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples if a Taser was used on Goodblanket. Although he declined to comment as to the specifics of the investigation, he said that a Taser was used and that Goodblanket was armed. A report in the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribal Tribune on January 1 quoted Peoples stating that Goodblanket threw knives at officers and that one officer shot his own hand off. When asked about the officer, Peoples told ICTMN the officer “lost a finger.”

Jessica Brown, spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), said that the reports are sealed and could take up to six weeks to complete. Although the death has been ruled a homicide with “multiple gunshot wounds” by the state medical examiner’s office, toxicology reports will take the longest to finalize. Upon completion, OSBI will submit the report to the district attorney, and he will decide whether to pursue criminal charges.

The Goodblanket shooting shares similarities to another recent shooting, that of Keith Vidal in Boiling Spring Lakes, North Carolina. In this case, parents called for assistance with their son, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. According to CNN, lethal force was used against Vidal after three officers arrived on the scene.

The Whiteshield, Goodblanket and Vidal shootings all raise the question of the adequacy of mental health training for police officers. Although mental health statutes are published in the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Handbook regarding emergency detention and the transfer of mentally unstable suspects to mental health facilities, little is written in regards to deputies dealing with call concerning those who may be mentally unstable. Ray McNair, the executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association, said that it was up to each sheriff’s department to create their own policy and procedure.

“There’s nothing blanket in regards to policy and procedure,” said McNair. “No one from [Oklahoma Department of] Mental Health [and Substance Abuse] has established a policy and procedure that I know of.”

McNair said that most training in mental health takes place during police coursework. Following this, two hours of mental health training are required per year as part of a deputy sheriff’s continuing education training.

However, the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police has stronger criteria for municipal police departments dealing with mental health issues. Their crisis evaluation includes establishing whether a person is a danger to self or others on a case by case basis. According to OACP executive director Phil Cotten, Oklahoma’s larger cities such as Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Norman have Crisis Intervention Teams with at least 40 hours of training in crisis mental health situations.

When compared with these larger cities, county sheriff departments “don’t have the opportunity to get trained as much or as often,” said Cotten, for dealing with mental health issues.

With the loss of their son, the Goodblanket family is working to bring awareness regarding the need for improved training for law enforcement.

“We want people to be aware so that [my son’s] life stands for something beautiful and can initiate change on the planet,” said Melissa Goodblanket. “These types of atrocities shouldn’t happen to anyone, anywhere. There needs to be change in policy, change in training.”

Standing with the Goodblanket family is their extended families within the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. Ida Hoffman, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ Chief of Staff, said that tribal members have not had a favorable relationship with Custer County law enforcement and voiced support for the Goodblanket family.

“This is something of such tragedy for our tribe,” said Hoffman. “We’re not going to let it go. We’re going to stand behind the family and do everything we can as a tribe to help them.”



Autopsy Reveals Cheyenne-Arapaho Teen was Shot 7 Times by Deputies

by Levi Rickert
March 22, 2014

CLINTON, OKLAHOMA — Now that the autopsy was released Friday, March 21, 2014, Wilbur and Melissa Goodblanket await news on whether or not there will be any charges brought against two Custer County sheriff deputies who shot and killed their 18-year-old teenager son, Mah-hi-vist “Red Bird” Goodblanket, on December 21, 2013.

The long-awaited autopsy was released on Friday, March 21, 2014, and forwarded to Custer County District Attorney Dennis Smith, who will decide if there will be any charges filed against the shooting deputies.

The Goodblankets called 911 when Mah-hi-vist, who was diagnosed with Oppostional Defiant Disorder four years ago, was experiencing an episode associated with his medical condition.
The police were called so that the teen would not harm himself.

Two Custer County sheriff deputies, Avery Chance and and Dillon Mach, initially responded and entered the Goodblanket home in Clinton, Oklahoma with two Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers. Within moments of entering the home, the teen was shot to death by law enforcement officers.
The county sheriff department claims the teen threatened officers with a knife. The family disputes this account and maintains the youth was unarmed.

The case was investigated by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, which completed its report on February 10, 2014 and forwarded to the Custer County district attorney’s office. The report has not been released to the media.

The autopsy report findings indicate the teen was shot seven times with wounds to his head, torso, and right upper arm. Goodblanket was also shot two times by a taser gun.

The manner of death is listed as a homicide in the autopsy report. Goodblanket had a blood alcohol level of .10 and no drugs were detected in his system.

The two officers were placed in leave after the fatal shooting. They have since returned to active duty.
Goodblanket was a tribal citizen of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, mixed with Cherokee.

Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, at the age of 14, was chosen as a youth ambassador and traveled to Europe in England and France. Due to scholastic achievements, he graduated one year early from high school. After high school, he attended Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas and was planning to attend the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribal College in Weatherford, Oklahoma.

As the family awaits word on whether or not the deputies will be charged, friends and family of the Goodblankets have been holding peaceful rallies in front of the Custer County courthouse in Arapaho, Oklahoma to bring justice for Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket. One rally is already being planned for April 16, 2014 at the North Plaza of the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

After Mah-hi-vist’s death, the family opened a Facebook page to keep interested parties updated:

To support the family’s legal fund, visit: for t-shirt purchase or to donate:

CORRECTED & UPDATED: Saturday, March 22, 2014, 6:26 p.m. – EDT


by Simon Moya-Smith
Indian Country Today Media Network
Last month, a fellow journalist referred to me as an activist. And although many reporters would rather gouge their eyeballs with broken beer bottles than be called an activist, I don't mind it all. I am one. Indeed, I got into activism for the same reason I got into journalism – to correct the mythical American narrative and effect change.

So when I was asked to speak on Saturday at Washington Square Park in New York City during Rise Up October – a rally and march against police brutality – I did not hesitate.

It was not yet noon when I took the stage with friend and fellow Native American Jared Dunlap, who’s Ojibwe, and reeled for four minutes (my allotted time) about 520 years of domination and conquest and racism and hubris and bigotry and lies. I spoke about the deaths of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Paul Castaway, and others, and I went into detail about the brutal death of Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, the 18-year-old Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Eastern Band of Cherokee youth who was shot seven times, once in the back of the head, by Custer County Sheriff’s deputies in Oklahoma in December 2013. The two deputies who shot and killed Goodblanket both received the Medal of Valor.

At about the third minute into my mad rant, I blared into the microphone that it was 125 years ago this year that the Medal of Honor was awarded to 20 U.S. soldiers who participated in the indiscriminate killing of 300 Lakota, 200 of whom were unarmed women and children, during the Wounded Knee Massacre in December 1890. “More medals for more dead Indians,” I think I said.
The overall message [that a genocide was committed on this land, and that that genocide continues] seemed to resonate with the crowd, which by 1 p.m. had swelled to the brims of the park with hippies and NYU students and the families of victims, and wandering tourists who didn’t seem to really know what the fuck was going on.

After I stepped off the stage, one of the event organizers approached me and asked if Jared and myself planned to march with the masses. “Of course,” I uttered. The organizer, Annie, said we should line up a block away and be prepared to lead the march with the other speakers, many of them still with tear stains streaming down their faces from having earlier recounted what happened to their loved one.

One of the last invited speakers to say a few words was Academy Award-winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. When he got to the microphone I had every intention of listening to his statement, but I got distracted when a white man standing behind me whispered “This is bullshit. I don’t know what they expect to accomplish.” I turned around, eyed the man and the woman he was whispering to and shot them both a sinister grin before they decided to scurry back into the park where small groups had congregated to share in their own heated debates.

By 1:30 p.m. we were marching – stopping and going, heading north toward Bryant Park. Protesters – including Jared – were yelling at onlookers to join us and march in solidarity. A young, blond passerby began to chuckle as she filmed the march with her phone, which set off a family member who was marching near the fringes. “This is our lives!” she yelled at the girl. “These are our loved ones.” The woman’s cries did nothing to phase the young blond. She just kept sauntering and filming until she was out of sight.

We were nearing 25th St. when I noticed, to my right, Tarantino and I were marching side-by-side. I didn’t notice this at first, until he laughed, and his signature vibrato guffaw reverberated off the facades of the Manhattan canyon.

I immediately noticed he was holding a sign of another victim of police brutality. Jared was marching just a few yards ahead of me when I called out to him to come back. “I want to get him to hold this sign [of Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket] so we can get a photo,” I said to Jared.

“Quentin,” I said, tapping him on the shoulder. He first looked at me, summing me up, and when he noticed I was a fellow protester, he leaned in ear first.

“Hey, man, do you mind if we get a picture of you holding this sign?” I asked.
I showed him the picture of Mah-hi-vist.

“His mother couldn’t make it,” I said.
“Sure,” he responded.

I handed him the placard, which he held with his left hand as he continued to cling onto the other with his right.

In an instant we got the picture, and the filmmaker handed the placard back to me. I thanked him for his willingness and went about hoisting the big board of Mah-hi-vist back over my head, marching deeper into the city. “NO JUSTICE! NO PEACE!” was the song of the day, and Jared and I joined in.
Suddenly, a hand reached out and nudged me. It was Tarantino. “Hey,” he said to me. “Send my love to his mother,” which I did, and to which Melissa Goodblanket, Mah-hi-vist’s mom, responded that she was brought to tears by his heartfelt message.
One foot on the street, one foot on the web, folks. That's how we'll get it done.

Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, is the Culture Editor at Indian Country Today. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow him @Simonmoyasmith


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