Son charged in incident that killed tribal officer

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) July 2011

Federal prosecutors charged a second man who they say was involved in an altercation that led to the death of a Navajo Nation police officer.

Tyson Bigman, 21, made an initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate recently in Flagstaff on a felony charge of assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

An attorney listed for Bigman did not return a message left by The Associated Press.

Authorities say the charges stem from Bigman’s role in an incident last month during which tribal Officer Vernon Begay sustained a potentially permanent wrist injury and Sgt. Darrell Curley was fatally shot.

According to court documents, Begay and Curley responded to a home in the reservation community of Kaibeto on June 25 after Bigman’s mother reported her sons had been drinking and fighting.

Authorities say Bigman attacked when the officers attempted to take him into custody. Begay says he took down Bigman, who took a swing at Curley.  

Authorities say Curley used pepper spray to bring the situation under control and was headed to his patrol vehicle with Bigman when Victor Bigman, the suspect’s father, grabbed a hand gun and fired four shots, fatally wounding the officer.

Curley returned fire, striking Victor Bigman.

The 48-year-old Curley died hours later. Victor Bigman remained in the hospital where he has been since the shooting. He was charged with murder this week by federal prosecutors.

Begay says he sustained a wrist injury in the struggle but didn’t immediately notice any pain. He later told authorities he lost movement in his left wrist.

A nurse told investigators that Begay suffered torn ligaments and that the injury could result in numbness and tingling for up to six months. In rare cases, patients can experience permanent nerve damage and have only limited use of their wrist, a doctor told authorities.

Tribal authorities initiated a case against Tyson Bigman and his brother Johnson Bigman earlier this week, charging them under Navajo law with disorderly conduct, homicide, accomplice to aggravated assault and criminal nuisance. But those charges were dropped without prejudice before a scheduled bail hearing.

The request came from a tribal prosecutor who said there was insufficient evidence in Johnson Bigman’s case, and he was released, said Tuba City District Court staff attorney Tina Hatathli.

The motion to dismiss Tyson Bigman’s tribal charges was to allow the federal case to move forward, she said.

The federal government and the Navajo Nation 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.

Tribal officials, including Navajo President Ben Shelly and public safety director John Billison, applauded the quick action of federal authorities through statements earlier this week.

“This has been a very difficult investigation for everyone in our police department and we appreciate all the support we have received,” Billison said.