by Cindy Hamilton, 1996
When reservation rancher Rodger Amiotte reported finding the body of a woman on February 24, 1976, the arrival of a number of BIA police and FBI agents along with an ambulance surprised him. In the 20 years since the body of American Indian Movement activist Annie Mae Pictou (Aquash) was found, the investigation of her murder - or lack of it - has provided plenty of surprises.
Not the least surprising was a federal grand jury (95-96) and FBI agents into the 20-year-old murder case. U.S. Marshal for South Dakota Robert Ecoffey, an Oglala from Pine Ridge, pushed the reopening of the case soon after becoming marshall.
About 15 years ago Ecoffey told friends of Pictou and about a personal experience that encouraged his interest and concern about Pictou's murder.
He tried unsuccessfully to conduct his own investigation then and said if he ever could, he would find a way to carry out a full investigation. Soon after becoming a U.S. Marshall for South Dakota, he along with the state's FBI office began what appears to be the most intense investigation conducted into the 19-year-old case.
Some critics, all with the American Indian Movement, suspect the reopening of the case is another federal attack on the activist group.
[NOTE: How anyone might consider an investigation underwritten by the agency which cut off Anna's hands, directed that she be buried anonymously, AND alleged that she died of exposure is anything other than another attack on AIM is beyond me...however serious Ecoffey might be, his alignment with the FBI seriously damages his veracity...JS Dill, 5.14.97]
They raise concerns about Ecoffey's position with the BIA police during the '70s and some family connections with the self-named goon squad.
The GOONS [Guardians of the Oglala Nation] encouraged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI attacked traditional people as well as AIM members and supporters during what amounted to a civil war on the reservation. Like most people on the reservation, Ecoffey also had close relatives active in AIM and insists he was neutral[?] in that struggle. Other AIM members welcome the investigation, saying it's about time the case got attention.
During the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee, Ecoffey was a senior in high school, and the following year started classes in law enforcement at Chadron State College in nearby Chadron, Neb. He says he had wanted to be in law enforcement since he was in elementary school.
While in college he worked part time at the tribal jail and became a BIA police officer and then a criminal investigator for the BIA. He worked often with the FBI, including those killed in the 1975 shootout in Oglala and on the investigation of their deaths.
In interviews in recent years before becoming marshall, he has criticized some FBI agents for their unprofessional and over zealous behavior. He has also criticized some police action during the Dick Wilson administration, 1972-1976, and acknowledged that the goon squad and police sometimes overlapped to the detriment of public safety. He strongly denies ever taking sides in the AIM-goon struggles.
While many AIM members have expressed mistrust of Ecoffey's motives, most acknowledge that the current investigation has gotten closer to people rumored to have been involved than any earlier attempts. For the most part, criticism comes from people who don't live at Pine Ridge.