Chase Iron Eyes says he doesn’t remember stealing the car when he left the bowling alley in Bismarck on that fateful day almost 14 years ago.
He doesn’t remember how he ended up alone at the house with the kicked-in door, or why he walked out of it carrying two cases of antique shotguns when the police showed up.
“I couldn’t really piece together the whole thing. I was blank-out drunk,” he said.
Now 38 years old, a decade sober and accepted for the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party’s endorsement for Congress, Iron Eyes said he’s not trying to hide his past.
“That wasn’t my character then. It was a very serious mistake that I took responsibility for. When you go through something like that, you think your life is over. You hit rock bottom, and I hit rock bottom. And for some reason, God saw fit to give me a second chance,” he said. “I regained the strength to believe that I was not going to let that incident define me.”
Dem-NPL Executive Director Robert Haider said Iron Eyes had disclosed his history to party officials.
“It’s a built-in narrative of redemption,” he said. “He was young and made some mistakes. When he served his time, he could have gone one of two directions, and he turned his life around.”
Iron Eyes said he was “a pretty serious alcoholic” at that point in his life. He had graduated from the University of North Dakota two years earlier and had taken the law school entrance exam but had been rejected by some law schools.
“It was a difficult time,” he said.
Records show he was charged in June 2002 in Burleigh County District Court with four felony charges: burglary, preventing arrest, theft of property and criminal mischief.
Because of the shotguns, he also was charged in federal court with felony possession of stolen firearms that had moved in interstate commerce, he said.
He contested the criminal charges, but a jury found him guilty of the firearms charge, so he agreed to plead guilty to the state charges in a plea agreement, he said. He served 10 months at the minimum-security Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck and was ordered to pay about $3,600 in restitution.
Iron Eyes was released from probation in March 2007 — two months before he graduated with a law degree from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. He said he had to appear before a panel and tell his story before they would accept him into law school and likewise had to go before the South Dakota Supreme Court and go through a rigorous character and fitness hearing “to prove that I was morally fit to practice law.”
Now, he’s licensed to practice in state and federal court in South Dakota and federal court in North Dakota — including in Bismarck, the very court where he was convicted.
Iron Eyes said he knew his criminal history would surface when he decided to run for Congress. Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer is seeking a third two-year term in office, and Libertarian Party candidate Robert “Jack” Seaman also is running. Haider said he didn’t know of any other Democrats seeking the endorsement.
“Obviously, I knew this was going to come up,” Iron Eyes said. “I’ve addressed it with the people who support me. I’m going to address it at the convention. I’m asking people to focus on what I’ve done with my life since those rock-bottom days.”
Iron Eyes also addressed why he recently deleted his social media accounts, suggesting Iron Eyes may be trying to hide political views that voters would find extreme — referencing his writings on Last Real Indians, a website founded by Iron Eyes which he says is now managed by a friend on the West Coast.
“I’m not a groomed politician, so my social media presence reflected my humor, my sarcasm, my role as a leader in the Native American community and a social justice activist,” Iron Eyes said. “The risk of having people take things out of context is too great .... I’ve never done this before and need to do this from the ground up.”