BOISE — Two parents who are members of a northern Idaho tribe have filed a lawsuit contending Kootenai County officials refused to return their daughter’s body after she died in a car crash and planned an autopsy despite the family’s objections because of religious beliefs.
Nichole and Hemene James of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last week seeking unspecified damages.
The family and tribe prevented the autopsy after getting an order from a state judge but said the delay in receiving the body of 21-year-old Olivia Pakootas prevented the family from performing important tribal ceremonies involving the afterlife.
“The family continues to suffer and lacks closure,” said Tara Malek, an attorney representing the family. “They were deprived of the dignity and comfort of their faith rituals.”
Pakootas was a multi-sport standout at Tekoa-Oakesdale High School in Washington, helping the girls’ basketball team reach the state title game in 2014. She also excelled in track events.