Flagstaff police investigating alleged beating of homeless Diné
Flagstaff city police responded to a social media post about a homeless Navajo man allegedly beaten by four white people.
The police said on Saturday night the social media post by Klee Benally about the homeless man, Shane Russell, had statements that were “inconsistent.”
Flagstaff police said Cpl. Carlos Leyva and other city police officers responded to 100 E. Butler Ave. at 7:42 p.m. due to reports of a man “bleeding from the face” and “sitting near the sidewalk.”
The statement said Leyva and the officers located Russell at the bus stop at San Francisco and Butler.
“He was urinating on the bench when Cpl. Leyva contacted him,” the police statement said. “He was with another Native American male.”
Benally, an activist and musician, wrote on his social media page that Russell told him he was beaten by four white people on Thursday night a few blocks from Flagstaff City Hall.
Benally’s message about the alleged beating was shared more than 20,000 times since it was posted on Friday.
Benally stated that he found Russell laying outside the Taala Hooghan Infoshop, which is about three miles from where Benally said he was beaten.
He said Russell didn’t report the incident to police because they “would not do a damn thing.”
Benally said Russell “came to the infoshop” and “to tell me to document and share what happened to him.”
Benally said in his message that Russell told him “four young white people” used a bat, steel pipe and skateboards to beat him around 8 p.m. at the intersection of Beaver St. and Cherry Ave., three blocks north of the Flagstaff City Hall building.
Benally showed a photo of Russell, in which he has a bandage covering his nose. His lips and right eye appeared to be injured as well.
“They yelled ‘f*** you Indians’ and referenced the protests and riots happening. He was beat all over and could have died,” Benally said of Russell’s story. “No one intervened.”
The police statement said Russell told police he was hit with a stick. They found him with an injury to his nose, the statement added.
And it wasn’t four white people who beat Russell, the statement said.
“Specifically, he (Russell) indicated that night that the assault took place in the 100 block of Butler, not downtown. He said he was hit with a stick, and made no mention of a bat, steel pipe or skateboard. He provided no description of possible suspects,” Flagstaff police said.
“That’s a lie,” Russell said of the police department’s statement in a video posted by Benally on Sunday. “They’re covering up their own tracks. I was just taken down by spontaneous violence and I was beaten down and it’s been continuing for three days.”
“Call FMC (Flagstaff Medical Center). Look on FMC and see how many times I’ve been beat up within the last four days,” Russell said. “They told me they would get those guys. Hopefully, we can find them.”
FMC did not return messages left by the Navajo Times.
During the police’s initial investigation, the statement said, police found blood in front of the Speedway gas station, which is across the street from where Leyva found Russell.
“Surveillance camera footage indicates this is likely where Shane (Russell) was injured,” the police said. “The video footage located thus far does not capture the precise area where the blood pool was located.”
“The unsheltered community is already facing extreme racial profiling and police violence,” Benally said. “They have been facing devastating negligence by the local shelter and politicians who have turned their backs on them as COVID-19 ravaged their community.”
Arizona State Sen. Arlando Teller, who represents northern Arizona, including Flagstaff, shared the post with Flagstaff City Mayor Coral Evans.
Teller wrote in a text on Saturday that Evans has not yet responded.
The police said they’re continuing to investigate Russell’s alleged beating.
Benally said, “I told him I would spread the word and urge people to look out for and check in with our unsheltered relatives.
“While people march in circles in this town and kneel and pray with cops for PR stunts,” he said, “they invisiblize the brutality of white supremacy that unsheltered relatives like Shane face every day.”
If anyone has any information about this incident, contact the Flagstaff Police Department at 928-774-1414. If you do not wish to provide your name, please contact Silent Witness at 928-774-6111.