Feds charge Ariz. man in Navajo officer shooting

June 28, 2011 - 8:29 PM

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Federal authorities on Tuesday charged an Arizona man with first-degree murder in the weekend shooting of a Navajo Nation police officer in one of the reservation's communities.

Victor Bigman, 48, of Kaibeto, was charged by criminal complaint in the death of Sgt. Darrell Curley, who had responded to a report of Bigman's sons drinking alcohol and fighting at their parent's home late Saturday.

Curley was forced to use pepper spray when the brothers resisted arrest and was taking one of them to his patrol vehicle when Bigman grabbed a weapon and fired four shots, authorities said.

Curley returned fire, wounding Bigman. Authorities said Curley, 48, died hours after the shooting while Bigman remained in critical condition Tuesday.

Johnson Bigman, 25, and Tyson Bigman, 21, pleaded not guilty Monday to tribal charges of disorderly conduct, homicide, accomplice to aggravated assault and criminal nuisance. They both remain in tribal custody.

The brothers do not have an attorney listed with the Navajo Nation courts, said Karen Francis, a spokeswoman for the tribe's judicial branch.

Telephone numbers listed for their parents were disconnected or went unanswered, and the tribe's public defender's office said it had not been appointed to represent them.

The FBI and the Navajo tribe have concurrent jurisdiction when both the suspect and victims of an alleged crime are American Indian. Tribal authorities can prosecute only misdemeanors that typically carry far lighter sentences than federal convictions.

Complaints filed Monday in Tuba City District Court show that Curley called for immediate backup to try to control the situation. Officer Vernon Begay, who responded to Curley's call, was treated and released at the scene, tribal authorities said.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety also is aiding in the investigation because the shooting involved a police officer.

Curley was promoted to sergeant in 2003 and assigned to the tribe's Tuba City district that includes Kaibeto. He first joined the police force in 1986.

Tribal officials, including Navajo President Ben Shelly, Tribal Council Speaker Johnny Naize and director of public safety John Billison, praised Curley for his commitment to ensuring safety in tribal communities. Flags were ordered flown at half-staff across the Navajo Nation through Thursday.

"Sgt. Curley proudly served on behalf of not only his family but for the tribe, and he has done so with great dedication, honor, integrity and respect for all," Billison said in a statement.

Funeral services are scheduled Saturday in Curley's hometown of Chinle, according to Naize's office.