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April 05, 2004 05:55 PM

Lawsuit Alleges Army Recruiter Assaulted Girl

She wanted join the military and defend her country. Instead, a young Pine Ridge woman says she lives in fear because an army recruiter sexually assaulted her.

Lavetta Elk is suing the US government for 100 million dollars. And her attorney says there are more victims.

In 2002, Lavetta Elk passed up a college scholarship because she wanted to join the US Army. That's when she met Staff Sergeant Joseph R. Kopf, a recruiter who took her from her home on the Pine Ridge reservation to Sioux Falls for a military evaluation.

Then in January of 2003, Elk says Kopf returned to Pine Ridge and said she needed to go back to Sioux Falls.

She went with him, and says he then sexually assaulted her as she feared for her life.

Growing up in one of the poorest places in America is far from easy. But a young woman from Pine Ridge says trying to leave the reservation for the US military was much worse.

Class action litigation consultant Gary Frischer says, "She's been through a total nightmare."

Gary Frischer is involved with many KELOLAND Native Americans in various lawsuits. He says Lavetta Elk decided to talk about her ordeal to try and put it behind her.

Frischer says, "For Lavetta, I call her the Rosa Parks of Pine Ridge, because she has the courage to come forward and say hey this just isn't right. This is what happened.

In 2002, Elk says she went to the U-S Army's Sioux Falls recruiting office with US Army staff sergeant Joseph Kopf. When she left, she thought she'd been accepted. Then the next year, she says he showed up on Pine Ridge and said she needed to go back for another evaluation.

Instead, Elk says, Kopf drove to White Horse Creek, where he said he needed to make another recruiting stop. She says he turned off a trail, into a secluded area and began making sexual advances.

At one point, Elk's lawsuit alleges Kopf asked the young woman, "do you think if someone hid a body out here anyone would find it?" She says he told her he could make someone disappear if he wanted to. The papers say she kept resisting, and he finally gave up.

But Frischer says the army recruiter went back to Pine Ridge, and victimized other young women.

Frischer says, "He would make up any reason to get these girls off the reservation to Sioux Falls. He would have them sleep in hotel rooms. He would party with them."

Elk's lawsuit says the army should have known the segeant was a danger to female recruits.

Frischer says, "Her life is totally on hold now. She lives in fear. Why should she live in fear the rest of her life?"

A spokesman for the U-S Army Recruiting Command says Kopf was removed from recruiting last year and was demoted from staff sergeant to sergeant. He says there was not enough evidence to allow a court martial.

Frischer says because he's found other women who say they're victims of Kopf, and there will likely be more lawsuits.

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