Photo courtesy Terrance Circle Bear Sr.
On July 6, 24-year-old Sarah Lee Circle Bear of Clairmont, South Dakota, was found unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen. Circle Bear, a Lakota, was jailed on a bond violation.

Manning: Sarah Lee Circle Bear Died While in Police Custody; Family Seeks Justice

Sarah Sunshine Manning

The death of Sandra Bland, an African American woman who died in a jail cell on July 13 , has the nation abuzz about the ongoing saga of police brutality against people of color, and this time, it is becoming even more apparent just how poorly women of color are treated.

But a lesser known story regarding a beautiful young Lakota woman is just as worthy of our attention. On July 6, 24-year-old Sarah Lee Circle Bear of Clairmont, South Dakota, was found unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen. Circle Bear was jailed on a bond violation.

Witnesses stated that before being transferred to a holding cell, Circle Bear pleaded to jailers that she was in excruciating pain. Jail staff allegedly responded by dismissing her cries for help, telling her to “knock it off,” and “quit faking.” Witnesses say that inmates cried out for the jail staff to help Circle Bear, to which they eventually responded by picking her up off of the floor, dragging her out of the cell, and transferring her to a holding cell. Circle Bear was later found unresponsive in the holding cell.

I recently learned about Sarah Lee Circle Bear while attending a family ceremonial gathering. A relative set out a memorial chair for Sarah, a tradition of the Dakota and Lakota people. Sarah’s story was shared, and the circle prayed for her and her family for four days. In that time, we all connected with Sarah as a relative. She is one of us. She had life. She was young, beautiful, and she had a future. Sarah was also a mother. Two precious sons, age one and two, are now without their mom.

The family of Sarah Lee Circle Bear continues to grieve, and meanwhile seek justice for their beloved daughter. They are presently looking into different options for lawyers, and fear that without the right lawyer they may miss an opportunity for justice for Sarah.

While the family and loved ones await the results of a toxicology report, the fact remains that Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a beautiful young woman worthy of life, appears to have been blatantly neglected and treated cruelly by the jail staff while in their care.

When any person is taken into custody and under the care of law enforcement, it is their right to receive appropriate medical attention and just treatment. This does not appear to be the case with Sarah Lee Circle Bear, and in the state of South Dakota where Native Americans are the largest minority and hate crimes are reported at high levels, it is time to demand a thorough investigation into her neglect and her death. It is time to demand better treatment of Native women, and justice for Sarah.

Sarah Sunshine Manning.

Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth.

Editor's Note: This report is ongoing. Stay tuned for developments. ICTMN is reaching out to authorities for comment.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Kaylynn Mitchell-Crist
Kaylynn Mitchel...
Submitted by Kaylynn Mitchel... on
My heart has been weeping for the people of SD for some time now, but it is now sobbing for this beautiful woman and her family and friends. My heart is angered by the dismissal of value by a nation that seems to be on a mission to confront racial wrong-doings all over. Please...If there is anything that I can do, let me know. Lighting a candle and praying for peace for her family and justice of Sarah Lee Circle Bear.

Vernon Trader Logical Muhammad
Vernon Trader L...
Submitted by Vernon Trader L... on
Unacceptable. 10.10.15 Washington DC Justice Or Else. Be Ready. Be There.

Septimos Ziete ...
Submitted by Septimos Ziete ... on

Jack's picture
Submitted by Jack on
I normally don't play devils advocate on these types of stories pertaining to young people. This story needs more scrutinizing. It's worth noting that this website moderates comments. I take that as anyone who has a difference of opinion that's not relate directly to the views of this site or it's authors has little chance of making it to the full moment section. Before I comment on this stories facts or lack of. Let me begin by expressing my sincere condolences to the family of this young lady and in particular her two small children. Whether or not this incident happened or not, two children are without their mother tonight. Lets begin here. Ms. Circle Bear was incarcerated for a reason, actually two reason's. The 1st serious enough to require bond, the 2nd, bond violation. Anytime one violates bond, they immediately have the bond revoked. Thus, they are sent back to jail and held until their hearing. What this story lacks is any credible witnesses. The writer makes serious allegations in her story. But fails to provide a single name as witness. The term ' inmates' is very vague. certainly these inmates have names. If what this writer claims is real, these inmates who screamed for help, should offer up their names to be included to ad merit to this case and story. What I read here was hearsay and no factual evidence whatsoever. This in all likely hood is why this story has received no attention from the press in other area's. Responsible writers & editors will not go print without some type of reasonable witness to allegations like these. Secondly. Had this writer had an opportunity to view video of this incident? Most jail system's in the country now have video booking systems. These systems will show the inmate being processed from time of entry to the time they are put in their holding cell. This is being done all over the United States for this very reason, for the safety of the inmate and jail staff. Third. The writer is correct. While in police custody, the said holding facility is responsible for all safety & health concerns of inmates. However, an inmate who comes into the facility intoxicated and upset can make it difficult to judge between a legitimate health concern or plain intoxication. either way, the responsibility is with the institution to make the right call. In general. This case will be a difficult one to prove. Toxicology results will be key. Along with witness, if any. Obtaining legal council is going to be difficult if not impossible. I have to assume that with no attorney, that most if not all law firms in and around the Aberdeen area know more than this story is reporting.

Billy Dick's picture
Billy Dick
Submitted by Billy Dick on
I hope they resolve this mysterious death......for far too long law enforcement has been killing people legally.

richardhboyden's picture
Submitted by richardhboyden on
Sarah...I forwarded this story to award winning African American Journalist for the Wall Street Journal... Gary Fields...

atmu09's picture
Submitted by atmu09 on
Greetings My Native American brothers and sisters. I am an African American male who believes in cultural awareness and exchange. I LOVE this site. However, my primary reason for commenting here today is to express the importance of solidarity among people who are oppressed and unfairly discriminated against. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful occurrences of this year happened during the protests of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. There were people from all walks of life and ethnicities that came together to stand as one united front against police brutality and racism. Palestinians wrote African Americans in Ferguson (via Twitter) to exchange information on how to protect oneself against teargas attacks. A beautiful moment that touched my heart and soul. With that said, a united front is what is needed in situations where "people of color" are unjustly treated and ignored by law officials as being human. An exchange and mutual respect of ideas is what is needed to truly create a Nation in which all people are celebrated and treated with equal respect. My life was changed upon reading a Lakota philosophy that does not have a word to separate genders. Each individual is looked upon as a valuable human being with gifts to contribute to the Lakota nation. ("Tribe" is the white man's negative connotation of indigenous people's way of life and is meant to describe a way of life as primitive). If this practice is actually a way of life for the Lakota Nation, then all humans have something to learn from this amazing custom. Again, with all of this said, my point is solidarity, cultural awareness and exchange. Native Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Hispanic Lives Matter, Muslim Lives Matter, Palestinian Lives Matter, Women Matter, Gay Lives Matter etc are all ONE movement. The loss of Sarah Lee Circle Bear is as much of a loss to the human family as the loss of Sandra Bland, countless Palestinians, Antonio Zabrano Montes,Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and many many more. Let's share each other's stories and support each other in protests and create a united front that tells people like Hillary Clinton if you're going to say "All lives Matter" then live it and help make it so. ( Btw Not a fan of Hillary Clinton). Peace and many blessings Aho'

Debra Perez
Debra Perez
Submitted by Debra Perez on
I want to know where Tribal Counsel was when this happened to Circle Bear is she not registered on the reservation why were they not involved with her incarceration I know when my cousin had problems they stepped in and took over and all turned out well or is the Potowatmi Indians the only that have that as protection of sorts

DottiDeLaRosa's picture
Submitted by DottiDeLaRosa on
Prayers For Sarah's family! I know what they are going through. My nephew died in police custody under similar circumstances, except he was assaulted and clearly suffered an injury. He was put in a medical holding cell instead of being treated. He had internal bleeding and bled out in 5 long excruciatingly painful hours before being found "non-responsive". I really hope Sarah's family finds justice for her! It's a long journey from incident to justice and it requires a lot of determination, and justice is always bitter sweet. Nothing can ever bring back a lost loved one.

TonyF's picture
Submitted by TonyF on
That is awful, jail cell guards give better care to people who take other peoples lives but she was neglected to the point where she lost her life. It is awful the one(s) in charge of the facility is not coming forth to be responsible and provide answers, perhaps they have a different agenda than being responsible. My prayers are with her and her family & all her loved ones.

Izumi's picture
Submitted by Izumi on
In response to the skeptical Jack: unsurprisingly, news stories about native people rarely reach national media status, and I'm surprised that you are unaware of this. If you do an internet search on Ms. Circle Bear, you will find numerous small media outlet articles. You criticize the author for not interviewing (and therefore having the names of) the inmates who witnessed this event. Do you seriously believe that any journalist who calls the jail will be given carte blanche access to all records surrounding an incident which reflects so terribly on them? I doubt that any of the woman's family knows much other than a sanitized version of events and probably pieced together what actually happened to their family member over the last several weeks (she died less than a month ago). You waste many words explaining why Ms. Circle Bear deserved to be in jail. Are you also saying that, once jailed, inmates can be treated as less than human? You have missed two extremely important issues raised by this article: one is the extraordinarily high incarceration rate of non-white Americans compared to their Caucasian counterparts committing the same crimes, and two, deaths while in police custody are underreported to the point that when one actually is written up, it brings out people like yourself ready to roll out the excuses and reasons that the inmate caused his or her own death because American police do no wrong. As a R.N., I assure you that whether intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, people can and do have medical emergencies that must still be tended to, and many medical conditions mimic symptoms of intoxication without the presence of any drugs or alcohol. Police are not medical professionals and those who make decisions about medical status by ignoring pleas for help due to pain are arrogant and should be fired or at minimum receive retraining.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
To Jack: (you said). This story needs more scrutinizing. It's worth noting that this website moderates comments. I take that as anyone who has a difference of opinion that's not relate directly to the views of this site or it's authors has little chance of making it to the full moment section. ____________________________________________________________ I think the writers/moderators here know what they're doing. There is a Judge and an attorney on staff here so the one making assumptions is you. That's clear by the simple fact that I'm responding to the comment you felt sure would never make it on the forum. ____________________________________________________________ The issue here is NOT Ms. Circle Bear's guilt from a previous charge, it's the fact that she was screaming in apparent excruciating pain and was ignored by her jailers. How can you argue that this is anything but oppression and discrimination?

Old Lady's picture
Old Lady
Submitted by Old Lady on
It is long past time for a federal investigation into law enforcement for that entire region. South Dakota has long had a horrible reputation for this kind of thing, and we cannot let it continue. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the state (and neighboring states in the same region) have had all kinds of atrocities committed against Native people, and a lot more scrutiny and appropriate prison terms for perpetrators are needed. And if the over populated white community of the region does not care for Natives, there are boats and planes that take off for Europe every day, and those people need to book passage.