BISMARCK — George "Ryan" Gipp Jr. was shot and killed by Bureau of Indian Affairs officers in 2017 near Fort Yates, N.D., and the officers were not criminally charged. Now, Gipp's family, unsatisfied with the result of the feds' investigation, says justice for their loved one is long overdue.
Local advocates and Gipp's family are calling for authorities to review the case again, and they are planning a march Saturday, July 4, in Bismarck to call for the release of information that they believe the federal government is withholding about the circumstances surrounding Gipp's death.
In October of 2017, two BIA officers shot Gipp multiple times on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, according to a federal lawsuit filed by his family. Gipp, 35, died as a result of his injuries.
Why the officers shot Gipp is unclear. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of North Dakota declined to comment on the details of the shooting.
Gipp's family disputes some of the alleged details of the case found in the FBI's investigation. The results of the investigation received an outside review from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Nebraska and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
In the years since Gipp's death, his family has sued the officers involved and the federal government. The family is now ramping up efforts to seek justice, as they believe elements of Gipp's case go beyond just him. They say systemic issues are at play in the case, issues that much of the country is currently grappling with.
"The facts in the case are horrific and we want to make sure the public knows that," said Henry Gipp, Ryan Gipp's brother. "North Dakota is not just 'North Dakota nice' .... We have so much racial injustice, so many poverty-stricken communities laced within the fabric of this state, and I definitely feel that we need to be heard."
In a statement to The Forum, the U.S. attorney's office in North Dakota said the FBI "completed a thorough investigation."
"It was determined that criminal charges against the officers involved were not warranted," the statement reads. The U.S. attorney's office also said the FBI met with the Gipp family and members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council in 2018 to discuss the investigation, and "the matter was closed."
In September, Gipp's family filed their lawsuit against the U.S. government and the two BIA officers who allegedly shot him, Raymond Webb and Gary Sandland. The family is seeking $15 million in damages for Gipp's three children, court documents show. The case is still pending.
The U.S. attorney's office in North Dakota said it is confident the facts are on its side in the civil case.
"The government intends to present a vigorous defense and we are confident that if the case goes to trial, the relevant facts will support that vigorous defense," the statement reads.
On Oct. 23, 2017, Gipp and his parents were returning home from a day of turkey hunting and stopped at a gas station. Gipp tried to eject a shell from his shotgun, which he had for hunting, when it accidentally discharged, according to the complaint in the family's lawsuit.
No one was in the vicinity of where the gun was pointed, the complaint states. The family began to drive home, when a group of BIA officers pulled the car over after they had been called about the gunshot.
The complaint states that, "In an effort to play it safe, Ryan Gipp threw the only weapon available, the shotgun used for hunting, out the window of the vehicle ...."
The complaint alleges the officers saw that Gipp was unarmed, and one of them said over the shared radio that they were "okay."
The complaint asserts that Gipp did not try to hurt the officers and "posed no threat of death or serious bodily injury to anyone," when the officers jolted him with a Taser without warning. Gipp then stumbled into a nearby ditch, the complaint states.
The complaint alleges the two officers, Webb and Sandland, shot Gipp "despite absolutely no justification."
An autopsy was performed, and his death was ruled a homicide, according to Gipp's death certificate, which lists his immediate cause of death as gunshot wounds to the chest and lower extremity.
Henry Gipp said his brother was a loving son, father and family member, and his energy would light up a room. He saw the way his brother acted as a father and a man, and Henry Gipp looked up to him.
"He'd always be laughing and joking around .... His laughter would echo anywhere he was at," Henry Gipp said. "I saw things in him and it inspired me."
Saturday's march is set to start at 1 p.m. in Custer Park in Bismarck. Marchers can show up an hour beforehand to get acquainted and gather as a community.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.