In a historic move, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson unveiled the nation’s first-ever Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Cold Case Unit earlier in November. Heading the investigations will be Brian George, a 27-year law enforcement veteran and member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
George has spent 25 years with the Washington State Patrol and most recently served as the director of the Washington State Fusion Center. He started his career as an officer with the Suquamish Tribal Police Department.
The primary objective of the cold case unit is to collaborate with local and tribal law enforcement agencies, addressing the lingering cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people. The unit will be housed within the Attorney General’s Criminal Justice Division.
“Our first-of-its-kind unit represents the commitment of our state to do all we can to support law enforcement and Indigenous families affected by this crisis,” Ferguson said.
George echoed this sentiment, acknowledging the collective effort that led to this point and expressing readiness to embark on this vital work.
“It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point, and there’s more to do. 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.
The unit will comprise investigators and a case navigator. The navigator will maintain regular, consistent communication with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people, using culturally appropriate and trauma-informed practices to convey information between investigators and families.
The Attorney General’s Office is reviewing applications for investigator positions, with plans to post the navigator position later this month.
Highlighting the alarming rates of violence experienced by American Indian and Alaskan Native women and people, recent data from the National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reveals that homicide ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death for Indigenous women and girls, and the third-leading cause for Indigenous men.
A federal study further indicated that Native American women are murdered at rates 10 times the national average in certain jurisdictions.
The unit stems from the 2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force convened by the Attorney General’s Office. After unanimous recommendations in 2022, the Task Force spurred the creation of the cold case unit.
In 2023, Ferguson collaborated with state lawmakers to propose legislation establishing the Cold Case Investigations Unit, which was passed unanimously.