When government officials abuse their positions for personal gain, they deserve to be punished. Sometimes, an abuse of power is so heinous that the perpetrators are punished both criminally and civilly. Criminal and civil cases are two separate things, though they are often closely related. Attorney John Heenan, of Heenan & Cook, PLLC, is currently representing a woman who was raped and impregnated by an on-duty Bureau of Indian Affairs police officer.

What happened in this case?

On October 31, 2015, a woman called the police and informed them that her mother was driving while intoxicated, according to court documents. Dana Michael Bullcoming, a former BIA officer, responded to the call. After finding that the victim’s mother was safe, he left the scene and went to the victim’s home.

It was then that and extreme abuse of power took place.

After the victim admitted to being drunk, Bullcoming threatened to call social services and arrest her for child endangerment, according to court documents. He told her that she would lose her new job if arrested. Bullcoming told the victim that “something had to be done.” When the victim asked Bullcoming if that meant having sex with him, he said yes.

The victim and Bullcoming proceeded to have unprotected sex, after which the victim became pregnant. During his criminal case in 2018, the victim said the experience traumatized her and had taken a toll on her marriage. The lost her job due to the pregnancy and received a urinary tract infection.

Bullcoming was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law.

What will happen moving forward?

John Heenan is the attorney working on behalf of the victim in a civil case filed against Bullcoming. Heenan is seeking damages ranging between $7 million and $15 million on behalf of his client.

Heenan told a judge last month that a ruling in his client’s favor “will send a loud and clear message one way or the other.” He said that, if the award is sufficient, more sexual assault victims may feel validated and be encouraged to seek justice by coming forward.

Abuses of power like this are grotesque. Attorney Heenan says that a low settlement amount will send a message to law enforcement and Indian Country “that this reprehensible conduct is somehow condoned.”

Heenan was the only attorney at the hearing in November. Bullcoming has no attorney representing him. None of the assistant US attorneys who defended the government in the original complaint were present.

Sexual abuse victims must have a voice

This case highlights the prevalence of sexual abuse within institutions, including various levels of government. As we have seen on the news, victims of sexual abuse and assault do not often receive the justice or compensation they deserve for what has happened to them. Slowly, through various verdicts, victims of sexual abuse feel that their voices are being heard.

This case, if a fair amount is handed down in a judgment, will send a message to perpetrators of abuse that their actions will no longer be tolerated. The team at Heenan & Cook, PLLC Will continue to be by the side of sex abuse victims as they seek justice for what has happened to them.