Native American Says He Was Branded in Hospital Hate Crime

Lakota Sioux elder Vern Traversie says he went to have open heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital, and left with three Ks (Ku Klux Klan) carved or burned into his torso.

Seven months after the surgery, and after he says he has received little help from his attorney and local and state authorities, he’s taking his story public. In an emotional 10 minute Youtube video (watch below), the 68-year-old Traversie. who is blind, details the physical and emotional scars he says he suffered following the surgery in August last year.

In the video, he says that after his surgery a female hospital employee told him to take pictures of his abdomen and chest immediately when he got home.

“‘My conscience won’t let me be,’ she said to me. She said, ‘It’s bothered me for days. Something was done to you, and I believe it was wrong. I can’t sleep; I keep thinking about what they did to you.’”

“She said she wouldn’t identify herself or testify for me,” he said. “She told me she couldn’t endanger herself or her family.”

He says photos were taken by a friend as well as the tribal police. As well as scars from the 2011 surgery and prior procedures, they also show deep, scattered wounds — including what look like three Ks across his abdomen (see above picture).

“You can see the surgery sutures, and they’re clean,” Traversie said. “But those three letters, two good-sized Ks and one smaller one off to the side, had to be made with some sharp knife or heated instrument. It’s like they branded me.”

He said his doctor was shocked.

“She said, ‘Why is there KKK on your abdomen? That’s not what surgeons do. My pastor was with me, and he said it was a racial hate crime.”

He does not know if the damage was inflicted during surgery or while he was in intensive care.

“I had a confrontation with a male nurse while I was in intensive care,” Traversie said. “I was in so much pain, I begged him for pain medication. He told me to shut my F-ing mouth or he’d shut it for me. I didn’t provoke him. I didn’t disrespect him.

“I did talk to his supervisor,” he continued. “She said she’d take care of it and even take disciplinary action if necessary.”

He talked to tribal police and contacted the FBI, who said they would investigate, but he says he never heard back from them.

He found an attorney, who was told that the hospital attributed the extra wounds to surgical tape or to infections related to his diabetes. But Traversie says he has not had any infections and “what tape could make scars like that? The skin won’t heal. Those marks went through all three layers of my skin, deep into my flesh. I was in pain for a long time after that.”

Seven months later and he has fired the attorney because they weren’t working on his legal suit. The tribal council is now trying to find a new attorney.

Talking to Indian Country, through tears, he says:

“I trusted them to take care of me. They didn’t have to do that to me. I was defenseless. I don’t want to carry around those letters for the rest of my life, but I have to. They’re not only in my body, they’re in my spirit. They’re in my soul.”

He said, voice trembling:

“In the name of God and Jesus Christ, I’m telling the truth. This happened to me.”

Rapid City Regional Hospital say it is unable to comment on a patient’s treatment without consent. Rapid City police spokeswoman Tara Huepel says that police investigated the charges and they found no evidence of criminal activity.

The Justice for Vern campaign is holding a peace march in Eagle Butte, Monday May 21st.

Speakers will be presenting issues to end racial violence and to those that have been mistreated in the past from the RC Regional Hospital are asked to come forward and share their story as well. We are asking elders, adults, children, men and women native, non-native to support the cause.

Watch Traversie talks about his experience:

  • · Justice For Vern Facebook page.

  • Related stories:

    When the KKK Protests Westboro Church, Who Do You Root For

    Klan Wizard Commemorative License Plates Coming to Mississippi

    Teacher Allows Students to Dress as KKK

    Picture courtesy of Justice For Vern Facebook page


    Duane B.
    .5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing.

    Kevin R.
    Kevin Reynolds5 years ago

    My father had open heart surgery and never had scars like that. This definitely needs a serious investigation.

    Annmari Lundin
    Annmari Lundin5 years ago

    Lisa H.: "We care for prisoners, child abusers, perverts, immigrants, and treat them all like humans, because we are professionals."

    For being a "professional" you have some really weird views of people. You put together criminals with immigrants. Weird. As for your description of clamps and tape; Don't you see where the scar is? Why would there be scars from clamps and tape way below the surgery scar?

    Kathy Perez
    Kathy Johnson5 years ago

    this poor man. Why hate the people who were here FIRST?! Hating fellow people will get us nowhere, but it is even worse that anyone would hate a group for being here before us. WE stole from THEM... and this man was in the care of a hospital. They are responsible. Period

    Michelle Barager
    Michelle Barager5 years ago

    Disgusting treatment of a fellow human :(

    Julie H.
    Julie Hoffman5 years ago

    Why isnt this being investigated more? This requires the FBI. This is a GANG a CULT. Who did this. If it is at all a possibility that kkk members did this it needs to be taken care of NOW. Of course kkk members would get education to do this. They are ORGANIZED CRIME MEMBERS.

    Julie H.
    Julie Hoffman5 years ago

    aww this poor man. Why isnt this be investigated more?

    Julie H.
    Julie Hoffman5 years ago

    omg wth!. I know many natives who go to rapid city. I live in North Dakota. The man who did this needs to go to jail. WE NEED JUSTICE.If the man who this happend to ever sees you my heart goes out to you.

    Sarah M.
    Sarah M5 years ago

    This is clearly a hate crime!

    Lisa H.
    Lisa H5 years ago

    Calm down guys... First, if you notice all the OTHER marks in this area that show exactly the same depth, redness, and degree of healing, this makes it very unlikely that anyone did this deliberately. I've been an RN for 20 years. I've cared for many post-op Open Heart patients, and trust me, if you survive it, you come out with damage! Picture it: two surgeons, half a dozen nurses, all working as fast as possible on your cold, blue body. Clamps hold towels to your body, clamps hold your ribs open so the surgeon can put both hands into your chest, there are tubes, straps, equipment everywhere. If someone had ill will towards you, you would not survive, there would be no need for "skin carvings", and they sure wouldn't have to scatter K's across your stomach, they could imprint them on your forehead just as easily. One rude nurse in ICU does not make a crime! It may be rude, but most patients don't remember their ICU stay. These are EXACTLY the kind of wounds we see from extended application of clamps, or a tape someone is allergic to, as the many scattered wounds attest. Nurses and physicians are professionals. We care for thousands of people each year, of every race, creed, and color. We might not like you, but you will never know it. That's what professionals do. We care for prisoners, child abusers, perverts, immigrants, and treat them all like humans, because we are professionals. We spend years in training, and generally don't throw that away because of personal prejudic