Five weeks after a 53-year-old Durango man was fatally shot by a Southern Ute Indian tribal ranger, family members of George Sands said they still have not received any information about his death.
“It’s not right at all,” said Shay Havens-Gee, Sands’ niece.
Sands was shot around 12:30 p.m. Nov. 24 near the intersection of La Posta Road (County Road 213) and County Road 214, by the Weaselskin Bridge, which crosses the Animas River about 6 miles south of Durango.
Because the incident occurred on Southern Ute Indian Tribe land, the case is being investigated by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the FBI.
In a brief statement released the day of the shooting, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe said: “We can confirm an incident did take place this afternoon involving a tribal ranger.”
“Information is limited at this time due to the pending investigation,” the tribe said in the statement. “The tribe is working with multiple agencies due to the jurisdictional status of this incident.”
Ever since, law enforcement has not released any information to the public about the shooting, including who fired the lethal shots, despite multiple requests for comment to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the FBI.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Amy Meyer, spokeswoman for the FBI, said: “the FBI continues to investigate this incident but we’re not able to comment further at this time as the case is ongoing.”
Sands’ own family has been stonewalled from any information, Havens-Gee said.
In fact, family members said law enforcement didn’t bother to notify them that Sands had been killed. Havens-Gee said the family learned Sands was killed through his girlfriend, who was there at the time of the shooting.
After weeks of silence, Havens-Gee said an FBI agent called her last week, but again provided virtually no information. According to Havens-Gee, the agent said the FBI is waiting on an autopsy report, which could take five to six weeks.
“That’s it,” she said.
What little is known is that Sands was shot and killed by a Southern Ute Indian tribal ranger, a position different than a police officer, within the Natural Resource Enforcement Division, which is tasked with protecting natural resources.
According to a death certificate that Havens-Gee obtained from Hood Mortuary, Sands’ cause of death was listed as “homicide” from “multiple gunshot wounds to head, neck and chest.”
Sands’ girlfriend has given a written account of the shooting to the family, but Havens-Gee said the family is working with Denver lawyer Kevin Farrell and is not prepared yet to release the statement.
A call to Farrell was not immediately returned Tuesday morning.
Havens-Gee said every day has been hard for the family since the shooting, but it’s been particularly difficult during the holidays.
A memorial was held for Sands on Dec. 11 at Santa Rita Park, which would have been his 54th birthday. And each passing milestone, like the one-month mark since his death, it gets a little more difficult for his family.
“With the holidays, it hits us a bit harder,” Havens-Gee said.
Havens-Gee said she believes the shooting and law enforcement’s subsequent handling of the investigation has not been transparent. She has since started a movement on social media with the hashtag #JusticeForGeorgeSands.
“It’s not right at all,” she said of the situation. “He (the tribal ranger) gets to go home and spend time with his family, and we’re missing a big part of our family. It’s just unfair.
“I do want justice,” she said.