After more than a decade of frustrations, the family of Steven Bearcrane announced this week that it has settled its lawsuit against the FBI for what the family alleges was a discriminatory investigation into Bearcrane’s death.
It has been over 15 years since 23-year-old Steven Bearcrane was shot to death at a ranch house on the Crow reservation in the southeast corner of Yellowstone County. His mother, father, and other family members have not stopped fighting for justice for him since.
“It’s been a long, long road, a path of justice that is filled with hurt and frustration,” said Earline Bearcrane Cole, Bearcrane’s mother.
Bearcrane had earned a reputation as a horse whisperer, breaking horses on the ranch where both he and the man who shot him worked. The shooter, who had been friends with Bearcrane, claimed that the night of Bearcranes’s death that Bearcrane was drunk and attacked him and that he fired in self-defense. No charges were ever filed in the case.
Bearcrane’s family had numerous problems with the investigation. They say the Bureau of Indian Affairs wasn’t notified until hours later—and that key evidence was ignored at the crime scene.
And in an affidavit, another ranch hand claimed that she was told that a knife had been planted at the scene. When she tried to tell the FBI agent what else she knew, he put the blame on Bearcrane, saying “Indians can’t hold their liquor and drugs.”
Bearcrane’s family said it was obvious to them that the agent had already made up his mind that Bearcrane was at fault.
“I was angry. I was angry for him not wanting to listen. For him already having his mind made up. We had to pursue this because of that,” said Earline.
The FBI does not admit any fault in the investigation, but Bearcrane’s family will now get a chance to meet with high-ranking officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI under the settlement to finally voice their concerns
“A face with a voice will say much more and let them know that wrong was done to us and you can’t take it back, but you can move forward and help other people,” said Earline.
“That is what our goal has been was to help others so they won’t have to go through what we did,” said Cletus Cole, Bearcrane’s father.
Ultimately, Bearcrane’s family hopes that charges could still be filed in the case.