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Abused child’s death is symptom of national high rate of violence suffered by Native American children

By Miriam Raftery

Photo courtesy ECM news partner 10 News

June 15, 2015 (Lakeside) – An autopsy report released this week reveals disturbing details in the death of 3-year-old Roland Eagle Eyes Meza Sandoval, whose body was found in a home freezer on the Barona Indian Reservation in January. The child's death is symbolic of the high rate of violence suffered by Native American children on reservations, often at the hands of non-Indian men.

According to the Medical Examiner, the child died of asphyxiation after beatings and abuse that also resulted in blunt force injuries of his head, neck, and torso as wella s bruising on his limbs, a fracture of his upper jaw, hemorrhaging and organ damage.

The child’s mother, Elaina  Rose Welch, told authorities that her boyfriend, Julio Monggiotti (who was not Native American), killed her son after first beating him and forcing her to participate over a two-day period.  Neither informed law enforcement of the death until 11 days later, on January 16th, when Barona security officers responded to an assault call and found Monggiotti wielding an axe in the front yard. Officers ordered him to drop the axe. He did, then went inside to get Welch. Officers heard a gunshot. Welch came outside carrying a shotgun and told them her boyfriend killed the child, put his body in the freezer and forced her to help him.  Monggiotti died of gunshot wounds.  The chlid’s body was later found beneath frozen foods in the freezer.

Welch was initially arrested in connection with both deaths, but was released after District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to file charges.

“The case is still open and we are still following up on leads and conducting interviews,” Lieutenant John Maryon with the Sheriff’s Homicide Detail told ECM.

According to the autopsy report, Welch told homicide investigators that her boyfriend became angry with the child on January 5th, punching and kicking him. He reportedly told Welch to strike her child and tape his forearms to his thighs with blue painter’s tape.  The child’s eyes and mouth were also taped shut. He was then covered with blankets and put in his room.

 Later they let him out, but the next day the boyfriend repeated the beating and again ordered the mother to tape the child in the same manner. They covered the boy with blankets in his bedroom, but later the boyfriend wanted to go to the store.  The couple then wrapped the boy in a sheet and  put him into a closet.

When they came home, the child was not breathing.  Welch said she tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) but could not revive the boy.  The two then washed the body with bleach, wrapped it in a sheet, and placed the child in a laundry room freezer, secured with a zip tie.

Welch’s mother, Lisa Hernandez, told 10 News at the time the body was found that about a month earlier, Welch had bruises on her face and a bloody lip, but claimed she had fallen.  She had become less talkative and family could reach her only by calling Mongiotti first.  Hernandez said her daughter loved her child and she could not believe she would harm him.

It is unclear whether Welch may have been held against her will, abused or threatened with harm, or whether or not she made any attempt to get help for little Roland once the abuse began. Hernandez also told authorities in January that Welch was pregnant with Monggiotti's baby.

Asked whether Welch had previously reported abuse against herself or her child, the Sheriff’s responded that our request had been forwarded to Legal Counsel for review and that a response will be provided within the statutory time period required by law.

The case points up a broader problem of violence against Native American women on reservations. While the details here are horrific, domestic violence targeting Native American women and their children is, tragically, far from rare.

A report by the Attorney General’s advisory committee on Native American and Alaskan children exposed to violence titled “Ending Violence so Children can Thrive” found that According to the researchers, American Indian kids suffer from disproportionately high rates of abuse and neglect, and most of them aren’t receiving any treatment. They experience post-traumatic stress disorder at roughly the same rate as service members returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. And they’re twice as likely as any other race to die before the age of 24.   

The report states,“Today, a vast majority of American Indian and Alaska Native children live in communities with alarmingly high rates of poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, and victimization,. Domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse are widespread.”

The Census Bureau reports that 39% of all American Indian women have been victims of domestic  violence—and non-Indians commit a disproportionate number of those crimes on tribal lands. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, the rate or rape or sexual assault on American Indian women is 3.5 times higher than the rate for women of any other race in the U.S.  According to the U.S. Justice Department, one in three American Indian women is raped in her lifetime.

Historically, a problem nationwide has been that tribal governments lacked authority to arrest and prosecute non-Native American men who abused women or children on reservations, but law enforcement off reservations have often been reluctant to prosecute the men due to a variety of issues.  

While Congress recently renewed and expanded the Violence Against Women Act, which includes new protections for Native American Women,  it does not address the rights of abused children.

The  attorney general’s advisory committee which authored the report on ending violence against Native American children sought to persuade Attorney General Eric Holder to extend more legal protections for children on reservations, Think Progress reported last year.

The report’s authors concluded, ““How we choose to deal with the current public safety crisis in Native America — a crisis largely of the Federal government’s own making over more than a century of failed laws and policies — can set our generation apart from the legacy that remains one of great unfinished challenges of the Civil Rights Movement.”