Jones v. United States, No. 15-5148 (Fed. Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Utah Trooper Swenson attempted to stop a car near the Uncompahgre Ute Reservation. The car entered the reservation. About 25 miles later, it stopped. Kurip, age 17, and Murray emerged and ran. Swenson caught Kurip and requested back-up. Vernal City Officer Norton and others responded. Norton claims that Murray shot at Norton, then shot himself. The officers found an illegally-purchased gun near Murray. No officer administered medical assistance to Murray while waiting for an ambulance. FBI agents took charge, and, with local officers, allegedly denied a tribal officer access. After Murray was declared dead (off-reservation), an officer allegedly photographed Murray nude and manipulated his remains. After an external examination, the medical examiner concluded that the bullet entered the back of Murray’s head, above and behind his left ear. Murray was right-handed. No soot was found on Murray’s hands. When the investigation into the gun concluded, the FBI destroyed it. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court held that there was no seizure, that the pursuit was reasonable, and that Murray had fired at Norton. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, plaintiffs sued the United States in the Claims Court, alleging violations of an 1868 Treaty and of the government’s trust obligations. The Claims Court concluded that the Treaty was limited to affirmative criminal acts committed on reservation lands and dismissed allegations regarding failure to take custody of and secure Murray’s body against desecration, spoliation of evidence, failure to ensure a proper autopsy, and failure to protect the Tribe’s reservation boundary and sovereign interest in the crime scene. The court found allegations concerning acts on the reservation barred by issue preclusion. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court improperly limited the scope of claims cognizable under the Treaty and erred in applying issue preclusion without considering a spoliation issue.