N.D. woman charged with murder won't immediately get job back 5-23-07

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A woman accused of killing her baby boy eight years ago on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation will not immediately be allowed back at her job working with children and parents in New Town while her court case proceeds.

Dana Deegan, 34, who is charged with murder, was released to the custody of her mother on Tuesday. At the court hearing in which U.S. Magistrate Charles Miller granted Deegan's release, the director of the Three Affiliated Tribes' early childhood program said Deegan would be allowed to resume her duties there, working with parents and children. The job involves such duties as developmental screenings of young children.

Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Marcus Wells Jr. issued a statement on Wednesday saying the comments by Bernadine Young Bird “were not approved or authorized by myself, the Tribal Business Council or the Tribal Administration.”

Tribal spokeswoman Dawn Charging said telephones at the tribal offices “rang off the hook” Wednesday, with people worried about the prospect of Deegan being allowed back to work.

“This case has had a painful impact on our entire tribe,” Wells said in his statement. “The protection of our children and services provided to our families is a priority.”

Young Bird, under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter on Tuesday, said that she had the authority to make hiring and firing decisions.

“We certainly would welcome (Deegan) back to the program,” she said on the witness stand.

She could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Charging said Wednesday that tribal directors such as Young Bird earlier this year were given the authority to make final decisions on hiring and firing - a power that had rested with the Tribal Council. However, she said, because of the “gravity” of the situation involving Deegan, Tribal Chief Executive Officer Roger Bird Bear met with Young Bird on Wednesday and the two decided that Deegan would not immediately be allowed back at work.

Wells did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday night seeking further comment.

Donna Deegan, Dana's mother, with whom she is living, also could not be reached for comment. Donna Deegan said in court Tuesday that she had a telephone installed at her home only within the past week, and a phone listing was not available Wednesday.

Charging said Young Bird and Laurie Alberts, a federal program manager for the tribe, ultimately will decide whether Dana Deegan returns to her job, though a tribal personnel committee also might play a role. Alberts and the personnel committee also may decide whether Young Bird will be reprimanded for her remarks in court.

Charging said the policy giving tribal directors more authority is new. “We'll see how the process will work,” she said.

“I don't think there's a personnel handbook in America that deals with a situation this grave,” she said.

Court documents say Dana Deegan told FBI agents she gave birth to the boy, her fourth child, at home but was unable to care for him and left him alone without food or water for two weeks.

The baby's body was inside a suitcase found in 1999 by a rancher along state Highway 22, north of Mandaree. Investigators say DNA evidence confirmed Deegan is the mother.