WA hires leader for new investigative unit focused on missing and murdered Indigenous people

By: - November 6, 2023 4:04 pm

Activists march for missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Getty Images)

A member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe with nearly three decades of law enforcement experience will take a lead role at a new state investigative unit devoted to unsolved cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people.  

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday that he has hired Brian George as the chief investigator for the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Cold Case Unit.

Brian George, chief investigator of Washington’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and People Cold Case Unit. (WA Attorney General’s Office)

State officials say the unit, which will be housed in the attorney general’s office, is the first of its kind in the U.S. Legislation lawmakers approved earlier this year paved the way for its creation.

“This is meaningful, important work supporting law enforcement in bringing closure to families who have been waiting too long. I’m eager to get started,” George said in a press release from Ferguson’s office. 

George has worked for more than 25 years for the Washington State Patrol. He was most recently director of the Washington State Fusion Center, which supports cross-agency anti-terrorism efforts. Early in his career he was an officer with the Suquamish Tribal Police Department. 

The cold case unit was permanently established this year through House Bill 1177, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law in April. HB 1177 passed the Legislature unanimously. The cold case unit was recommended in a 2022 report from the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force. 

In Washington, Indigenous people make up 5% of unresolved cases throughout the state, despite making up less than 2% of the population, according to data from the attorney general’s office. The office notes that due to underreporting and misclassification, the disparity may be even more significant. According to 2018 data, Indigenous women go missing at a rate four times that of white women in Washington. 

Nationally, homicide is a leading cause of death for Indigenous people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A report from the National Institute of Justice found more than four in five Indigenous men and women have experienced violence in their lifetime. 

The attorney general’s office is currently reviewing applications for investigators to work with the cold case unit. 

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng joined the Washington State Standard shortly after graduating from Northwestern University in June 2023. Grace, who currently lives in Tacoma, is a local Washingtonian who was born and raised in Snohomish County. She has previous experience covering statehouse politics and policy for the Minnesota Reformer and the USA TODAY Ohio Network, which includes the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron-Beacon Journal.