Saturday, January 28, 2023

Khadijah Britton’s Family Wants More Than the Feather Alert Notification System—They Want Justice

A banner for Khadijah Britton that stands along Highway 101 in Hopland, one of many banners throughout the region [Picture by Matt LaFever]

Starting in 2023, California law enforcement will have a new tool to serve the state’s indigenous peoples known as the Feather Alert. Like the long-used Amber and Silver Alerts, the Feather Alert is a coordinated notification system that will be used to notify the public when a native person goes missing under suspicious circumstances. 

Motivated by the Missing and Murder Indigenous Women movement (MMIW), the Feather Alert will serve as a first step in addressing the documented epidemic of homicides and disappearances on tribal lands. Research from the Sovereign Bodies Institute found the North Coast accounts for 60% of California’s missing and murdered native people occurring between San Francisco and the Oregon border.

In February 2018, MMIW activists were gaining traction and a horrible crime on the Round Valley Indian reservation would thrust Mendocino County into the national conversation. Round Valley Tribal member Khadijah Britton was violently kidnapped at gunpoint by Negis Fallis, forced into the back of his vehicle, and never seen again. Law enforcement openly identifies Fallis as the person of interest in the case. He has been in and out of prison since Britton disappeared, but is currently free and living in Round Valley.

Though her case remains unsolved and her family waits for answers, Khadijah Britton’s disappearance embodied the problems indigenous women face. The story of a young woman falling captive to domestic violence and a known suspect walking free went national paving the way for legislators to push for tools like the Feather Alert. 

In the same year, Britton went missing, James Ramos was voted by San Bernadino’s Inland Empire to serve as the first Native American in the State Assembly. Since taking office in 2018, he has been Indian Country’s legislative bulldog uniting tribes from the state’s disparate corners to stand shoulder to shoulder demanding lawmakers work on behalf of native communities.

As a result of his work, California schools are integrating tribal history and culture into their curriculum, Native American children have greater access to health care, and tribes have greater power to repatriate cultural artifacts.

Mendocino County’s Round Valley Indian Reservation partnered with Ramos in their fight to change the name of the UC Hastings College of the Law whose namesake financed the displacement and massacre of Yuki peoples in the late 1850s. After prolonged negotiations between university officials and Round Valley Tribal members, the school committed to changing its name in June 2022. The name change process is underway as the university contends with a lawsuit filed by the family of Serrnamus Hastings.

Assemblyman James Ramos [Photograph from his Facebook page]

Assemblyman Ramos’s political machine and the momentum of the MMIW movement converged resulting in the Feather Alert. On December 7, 2022, Assemblyman Ramos hosted a roundtable to discuss the implementation of the Feather Alert bringing tribal leaders, community members, and law enforcement to the table. The resounding message from Indian Country was this alert system was only the beginning.

Ronnie Hostler, Khadijah Britton’s grandfather, has been one of his granddaughter’s most prominent voices in the wake of her disappearance. Looking into the eyes of local cops, FBI agents, and state legislators, Hostler has demanded action and accountability.  When she went missing, Hostler told us local law enforcement took an entire week to get statements from those who witnessed her abduction. 

As the years go by and her case remains unsolved, Hostler’s faith in law enforcement’s ability to solve her case has been shaken. When contemplating the inception of the Feather Alert, he thought it necessary to bring California’s sheriff offices to the table making sure they are “on board with this new law.”

Lewis Whipple, a member of the Round Valley tribe serving on the tribal council, attended Assemblyman Ramos’s round table telling the participants that the Feather Alert is a “great start.” If and when another native person falls victim, Whipple said the system “gives us the hope of bringing our people back to us alive.” 

Going forward, Whipple and the Round Valley tribe “want to work with county and state law enforcement to solve crimes committed against our people.” 

Connie Hostler is Khadijah Britton’s mother. Her child has been gone for nearly five years and she sees the Feather Alert system as a secondary issue to her daughter’s cold case. Like her father Ronnie, Connie’s focus is on the practices of local law enforcement that will actually investigate the cases of missing and murdered native people.

Hostler said, “I really hope it will help many families now that it has passed” but her optimism was tempered by the memories of her daughter. 

Assemblyman Ramos’s round table featured a representative of the California Highway Patrol, the agency at the helm of the actual notifications sent to the public A team of 3-4 officers man the Emergency Notification Tactical Alert Center in Sacramento around the clock ready to deploy notifications when deemed appropriate. 

A Feather Alert will only be deployed if the specific case meets all five of the following criteria:

  1. The missing person is an indigenous woman or indigenous person.
  2. The investigating law enforcement agency has utilized available local and tribal resources.
  3. The law enforcement agency determines that the person has gone missing under unexplainable or suspicious circumstances.
  4. The law enforcement agency believes that the person is in danger.
  5. There is information available that, if disseminated to the public, could assist in the safe recovery of the missing person.

If a California law enforcement agency thinks a Feather Alert should be deployed, CHP requires ample evidence for each of the five criteria. The process can be frustratingly slow for the family of a missing person, but CHP has argued the notifications must be used only when necessary so their power does not become diluted by overuse.

Local law enforcement must make the determination to use this system and have no ability to issue emergency notifications themselves. Multiple factors influence an agency’s ability to conduct a timely preliminary investigation such as their response time, investigatory practices, community relationships, and the specifics of that case. After that agency determines the case of a missing indigenous person meets all criteria of a Feather Alert, CHP will review the evidence and explanation provided by local agencies and make a determination.

Khadijah Britton [Photographs from the Help Find Khadijah Facebook page]

Ronnie Hostler often thinks about Khadijah and her unknown fate. She has been gone for nearly five years. Her case remains unsolved despite thousands of man-hours by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and assistance from the FBI. He hopes the Feather Alert system could bring someone home in the future. But, the notification system seemed trivial knowing with each passing day, his granddaughter’s case grows cold. What Hostler really wants is justice.

If anyone in the community has information regarding the disappearance of Khadijah Britton, contact the FBI at (415)553-7400 or http://www.tips.fbi.gov. Tips can also be provided directly to MCSO by calling (707)463-4086 or accessing their anonymous tip line at http://www.wetip.com.

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10 COMMENTS

    • While these efforts look good they will do little to help with the problem. What would help would be to tackle and change the culture on the Rez, that is the lack of cooperation with Law Enforcement. It is this that hampers justice but no one wants to call it out.

      And not questioning people for a week is simply not accurate. MCSO started the investigation the hour it was reported. Lack of cooperation is at the root these issues and keeps this family from seeing justice in this case. Law Enforcement uses info from those witnesses involved. These crimes do not occur in our presence so without cooperation justice is unfortunately denied.

  1. Of all the marginalized groups in our never ending “I’m a victim” gloating nation, some legit & some not so much, the native American population is by far the most fucked over one! Underprivileged, unrecognized, under served, disregarded & every other miserable treatment a people can suffer by the hands of their “countrymen”. They deserve more respect & more resources!

  2. Work on getting Neglis aka Negligent the one who kidnapped her in Prison. Waterboard him, check where his cell phone ping was at that day or his new girlfriend’s cell phone. Seems to easy for them to get away with. Was Britton the problem? Sounds like a O.J. case. Maybe Britton stole the coke. Who knows? Hopefully she’s in a better place. Since everything can be forgiven possibly.

    • This is like when people say ‘men get raped too’, and in doing so normalize sexual violence towards women. Yes generational trauma lives within us all, but some cultures have more of it than others, so much that it’s normalized.
      If a white girl went missing at gun point in front of family, ”they” would not take 5 days to begin investigating. You’re saying check his cell phone? People were there when he kidnapped her. Your basic pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality only works in you have boots. Just cause a casino is nice doesn’t mean people are taken care of, in the same way that a ‘nice’ new courthouse won’t stop crime. Casino’s are not a reflection of health, and anyone knows that getting a stipend from the government does not equal generational wealth and bodily health.

  3. I don’t think any program would help with this case. Main reason she has not been found and persons arrested? The town itself. No one talks though most know what happened and where she is located. How people can walk around knowing is unfathomable. You see news from covelo and people turn people in for minor offenses. But with Britton case silence. Cannot blame law enforcement for that. .

  4. My thoughts? Primary work on this bill was completed by Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians tribal Chairperson Janet K Bill (who is also a fledgling indian country attorney, Stanford and Arizona State law university trained), along with Assemblyperson James Ramos. Quite ironic, not to mention hypocritical, that a tribal chair that is at this very moment working to dismember an estimated 600 Chukchansi citizens from her own tribe (with 70 disenrolled in the past two months, 39 more denied benefits pending disenrollment hearings and more to come–not to mention the nearly 1000 tribal citizens dismembered prior to these recent disenrollments under Chairperson Bill) is claiming to care about murdered and missing women in California Indian Country, as those disenrolled include at risk chukchansi women, elders and children–the very people whom she purports to want to protect. Additionally, Indian children whose parents are disenrolled also become ineligible for ICWA protections afforded those enrolled/affiliated with federally recognized tribes, leaving them vulnerable to abusive and non-indian household placement as well. Sadly, the “round table” discussion of the Feather Alert bill was hosted at Picayune Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, with both introductions and commentary from Chairperson Bill. Seems someone is trying to make a name for themselves with this bill, while actually disappearing a huge number of California Indian people through an arbitrary and capricious paper genocide of their own indigenous kin. Sad, indeed…and perhaps “leadership” not to be trusted at all, rather driven primarily by motives of public image damage control and improved public perception instead.

  5. Matt. Your writing has not been clear on several stories lately. I think you meant to say “Round Valley TRIBLE MEMBER” not Round Valley tribe”. You make it sound as if an entire tribe was kidnapped.
    Surely you can be more careful with your writing than this. Nearly every story from you has had mistakes like this recently.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a journalist for the everyman. Journalism has become a craft practiced largely by the urban elite. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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