GRAND FORKS — Two Spirit Lake foster parents made their initial appearance in federal court today, Monday, May 18, in connection with the May 6 death of Raven Thompson, 5, on the Spirit Lake Reservation.
Erich Longie Jr., 42, and Tammy Longie, 45, were arrested Friday, May 15, by the FBI. They are each charged with two counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury to a victim younger than 18, and two counts of simple assault. If convicted of the charges of assault resulting in serious bodily injury to Raven and Zane, the more serious of the four charges, the Longies each face a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $250,000. They face a maximum of one year in prison if convicted of the charges of simple assault to two additional children in their care who were not named in the complaint.
A group of Thompson's family and loved ones gathered outside the federal courthouse in Grand Forks before the hearing, dressed in red to recognize missing and murdered indigenous women and holding signs reading "justice for all children in foster care" and "who is really accountable?"
Shannon Kamal, Raven's aunt, said she was disappointed that the Longies weren't charged with murder. She said that, while she blames the Longies for Raven's death, she also places blame on the foster care system that failed her.
"There's no accountability. There's no transparency," said JJ Buckley, one of the demonstrators. "Who's watching who?"
"It was their job to watch and protect Raven and Zane," Kamal added. "And they didn't."
In a press conference on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse in Fargo following the hearing, U.S. District Attorney for North Dakota Drew Wrigley said those particular charges were brought forward because there was probable cause to support them.
According to court documents, Raven Thompson was found dead by Tammy Longie in the Longies' Tokio home the morning of May 6; Spirit Lake EMS responded just before 7 a.m. After first responders cleared occupants from the residence, Zane Thompson was also found in the back of a red Suburban located at the residence, according to the affidavit. Raven and Zane had been in the care of the Longies since July 23, 2019, the affidavit said.
Medical care providers suspected Zane's injuries were the result of non-accidental trauma, according to court documents, and he was transported by air ambulance to Sanford Hospital in Fargo. On May 11, he was stable enough to be transferred out of the intensive care unit, but remained at the hospital on May 15, according to the affidavit. Zane's injuries were consistent with abuse, his physician told investigators, according to documents.
Tammy Longie told investigators that 13 people lived at the residence, including their three adult children and eight minor children. Wrigley and the FBI indicated last week that the children were taken out of "harm's way" by Spirit Lake Social Services after the incident.
According to court documents, Tammy Longie also told investigators that, in the days prior to her death, Raven had not eaten much or used the bathroom, and moaned and complained about her stomach. A preliminary autopsy report found evidence of blunt force trauma to the head and neck, blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen and blunt force trauma to the extremities. The preliminary cause of injuries is listed as "assaulted by other(s)," according to court documents.
Erich and Tammy Longie denied assaulting the children aside from spanking them, according to investigators, and Tammy Longie said she had not seen anyone else in the house be abusive toward them. Two of the minor children living in the residence told investigators in forensic interviews that the Longies hit, kicked, spanked and hurt them, according to court documents. A medical provider identified signs of abuse on both children, according to documents. A third child interviewed denied any abuse. Wrigley said in a Monday press conference that there are still witnesses who have yet to be interviewed.
Spirit Lake Social Services and Chairperson Peggy Cavanaugh could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Wrigley confirmed last week that the FBI was leading the investigation into Thompson's death.
"Our investigation continues," Wrigley said. "It's important that I keep stressing that because there is the possibility we are open to, we are open to any and all avenues that are required and that are called for as a result of this investigation. We will pursue any and all avenues for the potential for additional charges, for the potential for changes to these charges and the potential for additional defendants to be charged in this case."
Erich and Tammy Longie will remain in custody at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center until a detention hearing later this week, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Grand Forks.