Sherry Wounded Foot was found unconscious after she was assaulted behind the Lakota HOPE Ministry building in Whiteclay, Nebraska, on August 5, 2016. Days later she died as a result of not only the beating she sustained but a misdiagnosis at the scene of her injuries. Will her murder ever be solved?
Could Sherry Wounded Foot’s death have been prevented by more comprehensive medical treatment for injuries sustained in an assault?
Sherry Wounded Foot was a 50-year-old mother, grandmother, and member of the Oglala Sioux tribe from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota when she was found unconscious behind a building in Whiteclay, Nebraska, on August 5, 2016. A native of Rapid City, South Dakota, Sherry was close with her large family and enjoyed cooking for her loved ones.
Logan Lafferty, Sherry’s oldest son, said, “My mother had a tough life, but that may be why she was such a tough little lady.” He also stated, “... it turns out she was the sweetest, loving, most generous woman ever—with a heck of a feisty side.”
The day Sherry was found unconscious
On August 5, 2016, emergency responders got a call for an ambulance at the Lakota HOPE Ministry building, and when they arrived, they found Sherry unconscious behind the building. At first, the ambulance workers did not suspect that Sherry had been assaulted, but they transported her to Pine Ridge Hospital to get checked.
Sherry had a seizure at Pine Ridge Hospital, which prompted personnel to contact another hospital for help. The other hospital required a CT scan before they would accept a transfer, so the Pine Ridge staff ordered the test, which showed that Sherry had internal bleeding in her head and needed surgery. Sherry was transferred by helicopter to Rapid City Regional Hospital, and she underwent brain surgery at 4:42 pm on August 5.
After learning of her hospitalization, Sherry’s family contacted law enforcement to suggest that she may have been the victim of a violent attack. Several years prior to Sherry’s death, she pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon after stabbing a man in the abdomen in 2009. The source material indicated she was still awaiting sentencing at the time of the report, but it is unclear whether Sherry ever served time for the offense.
When authorities inquired with Pine Ridge Hospital, they learned Sherry had been transferred to Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota, and the staff there confirmed that Sherry’s injuries were consistent with a possible assault.
When Sherry died after succumbing to her injuries
On August, 17, 2016, 12 days after Sherry was found beaten and unconscious in Whiteclay, she died surrounded by family after life support was turned off. Sherry’s ultimate cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head, and authorities ruled her manner of death to be a possible homicide.
While an official investigation into Sherry’s death was launched, Sherry’s family did not believe law enforcement took her death—or the deaths of so many other Indigenous people—seriously.
As Logan Lafferty put it, “Each death in Whiteclay seems like nobody could care less, like us Natives aren’t human.”
A few months after Sherry’s death, a group of activists working to end alcohol sales in Whiteclay, Nebraska, put up reward money through Nebraska Crime Stoppers for anyone with information regarding Sherry’s beating and subsequent death. They believed the sale of alcohol just outside the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (which prohibits the sale of alcohol) contributed to violence, vagrancy, and alcohol-related problems in and around the tiny town.
Sherry’s own brother was found under eerily similar circumstances—beaten and left for dead in the heart of Whiteclay—in 2012. He ended up dying, but no arrests had been made at the time of the report.
Where the case stands today
In 2019, Sherry’s daughter Sandra Graham filed a lawsuit against the federal government for negligence on the part of the Pine Ridge ambulance service and hospital staff. She alleged the staff failed to recognize a life-threatening head injury that required immediate treatment—an injury that eventually led to Sherry’s death.
According to the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, “A 2016 National Institute of Justice report found that 80 percent of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes.” Sherry’s case is still unsolved.
Her daughter Sandra sums up her wish to find answers about her mother’s death: “What I need is justice. My mom deserves that.”
Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact the Oglala Sioux Police Department at 605-867-5141 or the Nebraska State Patrol at 402-471-4545.