By Vanessa Jugarap and Karen Van Fossan
“Honestly, with this whole thing and how everything’s gone on, I feel like I died that day, too,” said Ryan Netterville, older brother of Shane Netterville, a 28-year-old Indigenous man who was shot and killed by Fargo Police Officer Adam O’Brien last summer.
Ryan created a special tribute piece, which now joins the North Dakota Human Rights Arts Festival circuit, to honor his brother and keep a spotlight on the July 8, 2022 shooting. In collaboration with Ryan, community members have rallied around the campaign, "Justice for Shane," pressing the City of Fargo for an independent investigation.
The City of Fargo and Fargo Police Department have called the killing justified, citing North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley’s announcement on August 29, 2022 that Adam O’Brien acted lawfully. While the case was under investigation by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI), O’Brien was placed on paid administrative leave. He has since returned to active duty. Community members were outraged by the BCI's decision, citing Fargo Police Department policies against shooting at a moving vehicle and unnecessary use of force, as well as potential investigator bias.
Responding to outcries from the community, Barry Nelson, a member of the City of Fargo’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), called for an independent investigation of the killing. The Commission unanimously approved this motion on September 15, 2022. Then, on October 27, 2022, David Hogenson, a member of the City of Fargo’s Policy Advisory and Oversight Board (PAOB), also called for an independent investigation.
These efforts were interrupted at a series of fall meetings when City Attorney Nancy Morris instructed both the Human Rights Commission and the Police Advisory and Oversight Board that motions calling for an independent investigation were invalid. According to Morris, motions could only be made on matters that had been placed on the meeting agenda before the start of a meeting. She was unclear about how to place such matters on the agenda after a meeting had begun.
If the motions for an investigation had been approved, the recommendations would have moved up to the City Commission, where the independent investigation would also have to be voted on and approved to be put into action.
At the Human Rights Commission meeting on November 17, 2022, Jacqueline Dotzenrod, a member of the Commission, provided a draft letter to the US Department of Justice, requesting that the Department investigate the killing of Shane Netterville. The City Attorney suggested that the Commission did not have the authority to contact the Department of Justice. Additionally, Fargo’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director, Terry Hogan, advised that the issue should be handled by the Police Advisory and Oversight Board, not the Human Rights Commission. On December 8, 2022, the Police Advisory and Oversight Board decided to take no action regarding an independent investigation.
The City of Fargo’s Police Advisory and Oversight Board was established by the City Commission on November 29, 2021, and its membership was appointed on March 7, 2022. The membership was appointed through a Fargo Police Department application process and then approved by the City Commission.
The “Justice for Shane” campaign and community members vow to continue to fight for “Justice for Shane” and his family and to press the City of Fargo, its boards, and commissions for an independent investigation.
Ryan Netterville’s tribute piece will make its rounds with the North Dakota Human Rights Arts Festival in Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, Minot, Williston, and Jamestown. This is “just something I wanted to do for him, something that needed to be done for Shane,” said Ryan.
By spreading the message, organizers hope more community members will join the efforts to fight for accountability, transparency, and justice.
For more information, contact the “Justice for Shane” campaign at JusticeforShaneNetterville@gmail.com.
March 14th 2023
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