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A traffic stop on a northern California highway led to a Hoopa Valley Tribal citizen fatally shot on Sunday, Sept. 17, and the Hoopa Valley Tribe wants federal assistance with the investigation.

William “Willie” Burrell Nelson was unarmed and shot after he fled on foot while his vehicle was pulled over at approximately 7:30 a.m. on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in California.

According to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer stopped a vehicle on State Route 96 for a broken windshield and then reported that the driver of the vehicle was not wearing a seatbelt and the vehicle’s lights were not operating properly. The HCSO stated in a press release on Sept. 17 that the driver failed to yield for a quarter of a mile and then fled on foot for approximately 200 yards before a violent confrontation occurred between the driver and the pursuing CHP officer. 

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Preliminary investigative reports done by the HCSO determined that the suspect did not have weapons, which are defined by the DOJ as “deadly,” in his possession when the CHP officer shot and killed him. The HCSO also released that the suspect had multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene. The CHP officer involved in the shooting did not have a body-worn camera. The investigation of the incident is being led by the California Department of Justice (DOJ).

Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Joe Davis reportedly reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS) related to the shooting. Davis said in an email that he wants to ensure third-party oversight outside of the state of California. 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all parties involved. From the very beginning, the Hoopa Valley Tribe has been coordinating with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, Hoopa Tribal Police, CHP, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office and the state Department of Justice to ensure that we do everything we can to get to the truth of what happened in downtown Hoopa on that tragic day,” Davis wrote in the email.

Whether the BIA-OJS has responded is unknown and because the incident is currently under investigation, little information will be made available until the investigation has concluded. 

“The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family of the decedent and the Hoopa Valley Tribe during this difficult time,” the HCSO wrote in a press release on Monday, Sept. 18. “We appreciate the community’s patience and cooperation as this complex multi-agency investigation continues. The Sheriff’s office would also like to thank Tribal Chairman Joe Davis, the Hoopa Tribal Council, and the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police Department for their invaluable assistance during the initial investigation.”

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.