Brothers charged after Father shoots Navajo officer

By Felecia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) July 2011

A Navajo Nation police sergeant who responded to a report of two brothers fighting in northeastern Arizona over the weekend was fatally shot when their father intervened and retrieved a gun, according to criminal complaints filed in tribal court.

Johnson and Tyson Bigman were drinking alcohol and fighting at their parent’s home in Kaibeto when their mother called tribal police. Sgt. Darrell Curley responded to the housing complex and was forced to use pepper spray when the brothers resisted arrest, according to the complaints filed in Tuba City District Court. Their father, Victor Bigman, grabbed a weapon and shot Curley, who died hours later, the complaints allege.

The complaints don’t say when Curley was shot or where, nor do they elaborate much on the circumstances of the shooting. Navajo Nation authorities and the FBI are investigating the case but would not comment on it.

The FBI and the tribe have concurrent jurisdiction when both the suspect and victims of an alleged crime are American Indian. Tribal authorities can prosecute only misdemeanors that typically carry far lighter sentences than federal convictions.

The complaints show that Curley called for immediate backup to try to control the situation, but the defendants remained unruly even as they were being escorted to police vehicles. Officer Vernon Begay, who responded to Curley’s call, was treated and released at the scene, tribal authorities said.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety also is aiding in the investigation because the shooting involved a police officer, but DPS spokesman Bart Graves could not say whether Curley or Begay returned fire.

Johnson Bigman, 25, and Tyson Bigman, 21, both of Kaibeto, pleaded not guilty to tribal charges of disorderly conduct, homicide, accomplice to aggravated assault and criminal nuisance.

The brothers do not have an attorney listed with the Navajo Nation courts, said Karen Francis, a spokeswoman for the tribe’s judicial branch. Telephone numbers listed for their parents were disconnected or went unanswered, and the tribe’s public defender’s office said it had not been appointed to represent them.

Tribal spokeswoman Charmaine Jackson declined to provide the status of Victor Bigman. “We do not want to jeopardize anything,” she said.

The 48-year-old Curley was promoted to sergeant in 2003 and assigned to the tribe’s Tuba City district that includes Kaibeto. He first joined the police force in 1986.

Tribal officials, including Navajo President Ben Shelly, Tribal Council Speaker Johnny Naize and director of public safety John Billison, praised Curley for his commitment to ensuring safety in tribal communities. Flags were ordered flown at half-staff across the Navajo Nation.

“Sgt. Curley proudly served on behalf of not only his family but for the tribe, and he has done so with great dedication, honor, integrity and respect for all,” Billison said in a statement.