Bree Black Horse and Carmen Tageant
Published April 16, 2019
BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Carmen Tageant, a former Nooksack Tribal Councilperson and mother of seven, has reached a confidential settlement of her Whatcom County Superior Court lawsuit against Nooksack health care official LeAndra Smith, who cyber stalked Tageant from a fake Facebook account for two years.
“We are pleased that Carmen was able to achieve justice for herself,” said Bree Black Horse, Tageant’s counsel with Galanda Broadman, PLLC. “We hope her case has brought needed attention to the disproportionate stalking and harassment that Native women experience, and shown both victims and perpetrators in Indian Country that they are not beyond the reach of justice.”
Beginning in January 2016, LeAndra Smith used federally funded Nooksack Indian Tribal information technology to post a stolen photo of Tageant in lingerie, as well as misogynistic comments about her, in an effort to recall Tageant from the Nooksack Tribal Council. LeAndra Smith, the daughter of Nooksack Tribal Councilwoman Agripina Smith, targeted Tageant on behalf of a Tribal Council faction after she spoke out against the faction’s efforts to persecute and disenroll over 300 Nooksack Indians.
LeAndra Smith used the name and image of a witness in the murder of two-year-old Caylee Anthony—Keith Williams—to create a fake social media account on Facebook.
The stolen photo of Tageant and the various misogynistic posts that later emanated from the fake Williams page caused Tageant to originally fear that a man was stalking her and intent on harming her. Tageant specifically feared that a Tribal Councilman known for violent abuse of Nooksack women, was stalking her as “Keith Williams.” Tageant believed that Nooksack law enforcement authorities were protecting the Councilman as he taunted “Whatcom detectives” from the fake Williams page “to come arrest me,” knowing that reports of violence against Native women go unanswered by local law enforcement far more often than not.
As it turned out, Tageant’s stalker was another female Nooksack tribal member: LeAndra Smith.
On January 28, 2016, LeAndra Smith posted to the fake Williams page the photo of Tageant in lingerie, which was taken as a Valentine’s Day gift for an ex-husband but stolen from her Nooksack home in a burglary in 2015. Tageant reported that burglary to the Nooksack Police Department, but it went uninvestigated and remains unsolved.
Soon after LeAndra Smith posted and disseminated the intimate photograph, Tageant became a target for sexual predators. Numerous predators sent her sexually explicit Facebook messages.
Throughout 2016, LeAndra Smith continued to post hateful things about Tageant, which caused other Nooksack women to write obscene things about Tageant. The vitriol towards Tageant also contributed to her Nooksack children being bullied and assaulted at their elementary school.
Looking back on what happened to her kids as a result of the hatred espoused against her on Facebook, Tageant commented: “Our children and children’s children will be affected by all of this. I do not wish this on anyone—it all has to stop. I want peace for all Nooksack families.”
Starting on February 9, 2016, Tageant reported the stalking she was enduring from the fake Williams page to Facebook, as well as to the Nooksack and Whatcom County police. Facebook never took down the page or responded to Tageant’s complaint. Nooksack police claimed they did not have criminal jurisdiction to investigate. And Whatcom County did little to investigate.
In April 2016, a Tribal Council faction purportedly recalled Tageant from her elected office due in part to the ridicule that LeAndra Smith caused her from the fake Williams page. On four separate occasions from October 2016 to September 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior rejected the faction’s recall effort against Tageant and acknowledged her rightful Tribal Council position. But the faction ignored Interior—and by March 2018 Interior looked away from Nooksack altogether—and never let her back in Council chambers again.
In the Whatcom County lawsuit that Tageant filed in January 2018, records subpoenas issued to Facebook, Verizon, and Comcast connected LeAndra Smith and the Nooksack Tribe to the various obscene posts about Tageant on the fake Williams page. Facebook IP addresses connected that page to the Tribe’s Verizon cellular plan and in turn to LeAndra Smith’s Tribally issued iPhone. Likewise, those IP addresses tethered to the Tribe’s Comcast Internet plan and in turn to three computer devices at the Nooksack Tribe.
LeAndra Smith took down the fake Williams page the day after Tageant filed her state court lawsuit. Otherwise the page might still exist.
Tageant’s settlement with LeAndra Smith comes at a time when the rates of violence against Indian women and missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) have reached epidemic proportion. The online stalking Tageant experienced resulted in the same horror nearly one in five Native women experience each year.
“Tribal and non-tribal law enforcement too often disregard criminal harassment of Native women, which is too common in Indian Country because the wrongdoing goes unchecked,” continued Black Horse. “The systemic disregard for Native female life must stop.”
Amidst growing national public discourse about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization and MMIW prevention, Tageant and Black Horse feel that particular focus is needed towards the unanswered harassment and violence committed against Native women by other Natives, including other women and individuals who hold tribal public office. Tribal actors hide behind a tribal government’s sovereignty and “self-determination” to ruin Native women’s lives—with little to no consequence, if not impunity.
LeAndra Smith still works for the Nooksack Tribe and was afforded legal defense to Tageant’s lawsuit by the Tribe’s insurance company.
Realizing the connection between what happened to her and the nationwide systemic disregard for Native women, Tageant sought out and obtained justice on her own. As Tageant originally alleged in her suit, before she knew a female Nooksack health care employee was masquerading as Keith Williams to stalk her as a political ploy: “Defendant John Doe has exploited the fact that abuse like what he has inflicted upon [me], as an Indian woman, more often than not falls through the cracks.”