On Friday, December 2, 2022, 20-year-old Abbey Lynn Steele of Rapid City, South Dakota died at Monument Hospital after arriving unconscious and not breathing from the Pennington County Jail on November 16th. The Native community of Rapid City is grief-stricken and outraged by Abbey’s untimely death and the circumstances surrounding it. Abbey had given birth via emergency surgery merely 5 days before her violent arrest, detention, and hospitalization. Her death under the watch and authority of major institutions in Rapid City is an affront to common decency and basic human dignity. Abbey Steele should be alive today. Two children are now without their mother and have lost the opportunity to know her. Our community demands justice for Abbey and her family.Abbey was arrested, on an outstanding warrant, by a Rapid City Police Department officer who had arrested her 3 times previously. Video footage shows this police officer chasing and forcing a distraught Abbey into handcuffs while she was postpartum, post-surgery, and highly medically vulnerable. The jail and police would not respond to Abbey Lynn Steele’s mother’s questions as to her whereabouts and did not disclose her being admitted to the hospital or that she was not only unconscious, but not breathing. Abbey’s mother, Amy Steele, next called the hospital directly, in a desperate attempt to find her daughter. The hospital disclosed that Abbey was a patient in their care and on a ventilator.
The ongoing violation of human, treaty, civil, and statutory rights of the Oceti Sakowin and other Indigenous Peoples in this city and in this state, has resulted in the death of a 20 year old woman, Abbey Lynn Steele. We are demanding an immediate response around the failures of the justice and medical systems here in Rapid City that are implicated in Abbey’s demise. These system failures are rooted in racial animus, white supremacy, and a pattern of practices aimed against Native Americans living in Pennington County, South Dakota. Right now, the family is unable to bury their daughter, sister, and mother as her body has not been released by the authorities.
The inconsistency in information is highly suspect. Given the historical mistreatment, discrimination, and grossly negligent behavior towards Indigenous Peoples by Pennington County, we have no reason to trust any narrative coming from institutions that continue to violate our people. We have reasons to believe that the administrators of the Pennington County Jail and adjacent agencies are likely to coordinate manipulation of the public to shift blame and escape accountability; Abbey Lynn Steele died while in their care and custody.
Indigenous Peoples, especially our women, do not enter into these situations or systems alone; they will always have relatives standing with them and behind them.