• Loreal Tsingine remembered at vigil

    Loreal Tsingine remembered at vigil

  • Winslow man recalls events after witnessing fatal shooting of Navajo woman

    Winslow man recalls events after witnessing fatal shooting of Navajo woman

  • 7 facts about the Winslow police shooting

    7 facts about the Winslow police shooting

  • Daughter of Navajo woman killed by Winslow police officer shares hugs at funeral

    Daughter of Navajo woman killed by Winslow police officer shares hugs at funeral

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    Rep. Hale demands federal investigation into Winslow officer-involved shooting

  • Rally for Loreal Tsingine

    Rally for Loreal Tsingine

‘We’re still angry; we’re still frustrated’: Vigil marks anniversary of Navajo woman shot by Winslow officer on Easter Sunday

WINSLOW — Time hasn’t diminished the pain of Loreal Tsingine’s absence.

Nor has there been action by authorities that could reduce the chance of violent deaths like hers, according to family members, Native American activists and other supporters.

Those attending a vigil Monday evening marking the one-year anniversary of the Navajo woman’s death from shots fired by a Winslow police officer vowed to intensify their call for justice.

“We’re still angry, We’re still frustrated. But above all we still have faith we will get justice,”  Tsingine’s aunt Floranda Dempsey said at a vigil Monday night.

Outcry after the death of Tsingine, 27, mostly has focused on justice — calls for an independent investigation into her death and a broader discussion of racial profiling in towns that border the Navajo Reservation.

The U.S. Department of Justice said last summer that its Civil Rights Division would investigate the shooting after the urging of Tsingine’s family, tribal officials and activists.

However, those involved with the case say no visible effort has been put forth by the agency and, in a way all too familiar to protesters, their concerns have been placed on the back burner.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request by The Arizona Republic for an interview.


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‘It seems everyone besides us has forgotten’

Tsingine’s family, joined by members of activist groups The Red Nation and the Bordertown Justice Coalition, gathered outside Winslow City Hall and marched to the Police Department, where Officer Austin Shipley had been employed before resigning months after the shooting.

About 20 people participated, chanting “Justice for Loreal.”

Rows of yellow caution tape blocked off access to the department, which has its headquarters in an old strip mall just off Old Highway 66.

One of the vigil’s organizers was Tsingine’s older sister, Alta Barnell, whose tears flowed as she walked. The frustration that nothing had seemingly been done and that questions have yet to be answered were palpable as she spoke.

Barnell said her family has yet to hear from the police department itself, including on the day Tsingine was killed. Barnell heard what had happened from her younger sister, who got her information on Facebook.

“Are you sure? Are you sure?” Barnell said she asked her sister.

Right away, she said, she called the police department and the city to confirm.

“My name is Alta Barnell. I want to know. Is it true?” she said she asked a dispatcher.

Police told her they were busy and would call her back.

That call was never made.

“We’ve gotten no feedback. It seems everyone besides us has forgotten about this,” Barnell said. “We come to Winslow every day and see how Winslow police just carries on.”

Dempsey said she stopped a representative from the city’s Human Rights Commission while at the post office a few weeks ago, but that there were no updates in the case for that person to share.

“It seems like it’s not fair. It seems like DOJ is waiting until Winslow Police get situated before doing anything.”

Dempsey said, “What makes it even more frustrating for us is that even our own Navajo Nation President Russel Begaye … hasn’t done anything.”

She said tribal officials have referred to her niece’s death as a one-time incident, saying they needed more proof to indicate a larger issue.

“Are you kidding me? They’re telling us it has to happen again for it to be a case,” Dempsey said.

“We deserve justice. We’re not giving up, that’s for sure. But what more can we do?”

‘No one deserves to be shot 5 times’

The sun set quickly as the group, led by Red Nation member Brandon Benally, made its way chanting, “No justice, no peace.”

Onlookers watched as they crossed the road with homemade signs — the bystanders mostly silent, with a few clapping in support.

The sky grew dark as they arrived at the Police Department.

Tsingine’s family hung recently spray-painted fabric on the yellow caution tape that had been set to block off access to the building.

Family members made sure their anger and the depth of their loss was heard.

Tsingine’s grandmother, 68-year-old Sarah Morris, was the first to grab the microphone. Speaking in Navajo, she gave an impassioned speech of anger and sorrow, and the crowd began to light candles.

“Austin Shipley, I know what you did,” Morris shouted. “You won’t get away with it.”

“Even though there is a few of us, we will be heard,” Barnell said, taking the microphone from her grandmother.

“Even though Austin Shipley is free, he is not free,” she said. “What you did was the ultimate sin. You will pay. Winslow Police Department, you need to be a part of the change.”

“Loreal wasn’t perfect. She was human. No one deserves to be shot five times. What were you thinking, Austin Shipley?” Barnell said.

“Winslow police, where the (expletive) are you? I’m never going to let this go.” Barnell shouted as the lights remained on in the department office but no one came outside.

Tsingine’s weapon: A pair of scissors

Winslow police say Tsingine had brandished a pair of scissors threateningly at Shipley when he approached her in connection with a theft at a nearby convenience store on March 27, 2016.

Officer shoots Navajo woman

The exchange between the two took place a couple of blocks away from a Circle K where a clerk had reported a case of beer had been stolen. Shipley responded to the call and approached Tsingine, who was walking along the street.

He attempted to take her into custody, and police said she fought back.

Pulling a pair of scissors from her bag, she advanced toward Shipley.

Shipley, who said he felt a substantial threat, fired five rounds.

She fell to the ground, taking her last breaths as nearby residents came out of their homes to witness the scene.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety conducted an investigation into the shooting. At the request of the Navajo County Attorney’s Office, DPS investigators turned over their findings to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for an independent prosecutorial review.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery announced July 22 that no charges would be filed against Shipley.

Shipley resigned from the department in October after he was confronted with the results of an internal-affairs investigation into the shooting that was conducted by the Mesa Police Department, according to the City Manager’s Office.

‘There shouldn’t have been excess use of force’


Newly released video shows the altercation between Officer Austin Shipley and Loreal Tsingine that ended in her death on March 27.
Winslow Police Department

Video footage of the shooting from Shipley’s body-worn camera was released by Winslow in August. Former Winslow Officer Roberto Sheets has viewed it over and over again — perhaps, he said, in an attempt to make sense of a “senseless” act.

“It’s unreal,” Sheets said to The Republic on Monday as he stood at the spot where Tsingine had died.

“It makes you angry,” he said softly, staring down at the pavement, remembering the footage etched in his memory.

“Shoplifting … it’s just a misdemeanor charge,” Sheets said. “There shouldn’t have been excess use of force. There should not have been any force at all.”

The call Shipley had responded to a year ago on March 27 was common, said Sheets, explaining that many shoplifting incidents are reported from convenience stores.

The interaction between Tsingine and Shipley should have been routine, he said. Shipley should have first gathered evidence from the store such as the surveillance footage and the account from the clerk and any witnesses. And when Shipley encountered Tsingine, he should have used words to investigate the situation, rather than his strength and firearm.

“But it’s not all Shipley’s fault,” Sheets said. “I’d said maybe 60 percent, but you can’t blame him for the whole incident. The department failed him. They didn’t follow policy … didn’t follow protocol. They basically allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do.”


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A series of red flags

After the shooting, The Republic filed multiple public-records requests with the city that revealed many warnings and red flags had been raised about Shipley’s fitness for the job and his performance.

In his three-year career at the Winslow Police Department, Shipley held a suspect at gunpoint five times, drew his Taser four times and has used physical force in at least three situations. In one instance, he deployed his Taser at a 15-year-old girl who had her back toward him, and another time at a man restrained to a gurney.

Sheets and at least two other officers filed reports indicating concern that Shipley was too quick to go for his service weapon, ignored directives from superiors, and falsified reports.

But, the concerns went ignored, Sheets said.

“(Winslow police) still believes in the color blue. It’s an old thing that should’ve been put away with a long time ago,” he said. “Officers covering for officers. That’s wrong. There should be no covering. Only accountability.”

Sheets, who had worked for Winslow police since 2007, was terminated in October 2015, months before Tsingine’s death.

He currently has an active case with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over what he claims was a wrongful termination and was unable to share details of the events leading to the end of his employment with the Police Department.

On the Easter Sunday Tsingine was killed, Sheets had gone into the Circle K to grab a soda just after she had left.

He stepped outside when he and his wife heard the commotion from down the street, and people were shouting, “It’s Austin. He shot Loreal,” he said.

“When I found out it was Austin, I wasn’t surprised at all. I was upset because it shouldn’t have gone that far,” Sheets said.

Sheets took a few steps toward a large piece of wood on the ground near a memorial of candles and colorful flowers that still remain a year after Tsingine’s death.

He bent down and flipped it over. Leaning it against a streetlight, he revealed a pink and white message on the other side. It read, “JUSTICE FOR LOREAL.”

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