In March 1996, when Tommy Littlecloud was in the fifth grade, an evaluation of how he was doing as an adopted child found positive results, except for a severe impairment for being “overly demanding of attention.”
Who could blame him?
Since he was a small child living in Tucson, Ariz., his life had been hell.
Court records say his father was a drunk who disappeared after he molested Tommy’s half sister. Things weren’t much better with his mother.
“Thomas’ mother was an alcoholic and drug addict,” court papers say. “She used to put Thomas through people’s windows when he was small so that he could open the door for her and she would burglarize their homes.”
Once, in 1989, when Tucson police went to his home after his mother left seven hours earlier “to do some shopping,” he was found covered in lice and scabies.
He bounced through foster homes and was rejected by relatives until he was 10, when he “looked up at the Arizona sky and told God, ‘If you’re real, give me a family,’ ” court papers say.
This tortured past and the fate of the couple who finally adopted him will be on trial in a courtroom in San Francisco on Friday, where a federal judge must decide whether to let the government take his parents’ home.
Littlecloud grew up to be the career criminal who gunned down Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Robert French in an August shootout that also wounded two California Highway Patrol officers.
Littlecloud later died at 32 from wounds sustained in the shootout, leaving his parents, Robert and Nichole Littlecloud of Castro Valley, on the hook for the $100,000 bail they had put up to ensure he would show up for his court hearings on earlier drugs and weapons charges.
He didn’t show up. Because of his actions, they now stand to lose the house – worth $650,000 – that they put up as collateral.
Federal prosecutors say the law is clear: U.S. District Judge Susan Illston should order the forfeiture of the $100,000 and allow the government to force the sale of their home to get it.
“Where a defendant breaches a condition of his bond, bail forfeiture is mandatory,” prosecutors wrote in court filings.
Nichole Littlecloud has declined to comment about the matter (she spells her name as “Little Cloud” in court papers, while the Sacramento sheriff and coroner list the name as Littlecloud). But court filings by her attorney portray a family fighting to avoid yet another tragedy in the loss of their home.
Robert Littlecloud, 73, has been diagnosed with dementia and may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, according to a letter to the court from his doctor.
Nichole Littlecloud now has custody of her 5-year-old grandson, Thomas Littlecloud Jr., because his mother is in a drug-treatment program. The family fears losing their home will consign yet another generation to a hopeless future.
“I’m aware the word ‘please’ has been watered down for so long in this world its meaning isn’t what it was,” John Littlecloud, Thomas’ younger brother, wrote in a letter to the judge. “But I’m pleading with you.
“Don’t take this family’s home. We have suffered enough through the recent loss of my brother. I believe that is more than enough payment for this family. Don’t let this be a continuing trend for my family of loss.”
‘She wouldn’t show up’
As a small boy, Thomas Littlecloud’s chances of being adopted were slim, partly because of his own mother.
“He remained in foster care for eight years, not being adopted because the biological mother kept insisting she would get sober and be able to take him back,” court papers say. “He would wait for her on Saturdays, and she wouldn’t show up.”
Under federal law, American Indian children can be adopted only by American Indian families, court papers say, and attorneys for the boy dutifully took him on trips to South Dakota and Oklahoma looking for relatives who were willing to take him in.
“No one could or would take him in,” Nichole Littlecloud’s attorney wrote in her court filings. “During this time he resided with a number of foster homes.”
One foster family took him in for three years. “Despite the fact that the refrigerator was padlocked and most members of the household did not want him there and only spoke Spanish, Thomas bonded with them and missed them when he was taken away,” court papers say. “He was removed from the home after a family member sexually assaulted him.”
After being removed from the home, the boy “felt this was a serious mistake,” according to a 1994 psychological examination of him in Tucson.
“He felt hurt and angry,” the report said. “There was some point at which he felt partially responsible, but he could not identify where the guilt arose from.”
Then the attorney looking out for Thomas met the Littleclouds, a Native American couple and devout Christians who eventually would adopt Thomas and two other Native American children.
Robert Littlecloud was a Navy veteran who joined up at 17 and retired after 25 years of service, court papers say. Upon retirement, he became a chaplain, eventually serving at the Marin County Jail for seven years.
Nichole Littlecloud spent 30 years working as an accountant for the Carpenter’s Trust Fund in Oakland before retiring.
Thomas was 10 when he was adopted on Jan. 18, 1996, and “not surprisingly ... was diagnosed with attachment disorder shortly after” the adoption, court papers say.
“They placed him in a private Catholic school, participated in after-school activities, ran a Bible study from their home on Thursday evenings and took him to therapy,” court papers say.
The couple continued to work with him until he was 15, when he “decided it was time to make it on his own,” Nichole Littlecloud wrote in a letter to the judge.
“At 15, I really prayed,” she wrote, adding that she would drive the streets at night looking for him.
Eventually, Thomas Littlecloud drifted into a life of crime that included charges of possession of a sawed-off shotgun or rifle, vehicle theft, resisting an officer, battery with injury on emergency workers and possession of a controlled substance.
Federal prosecutors say his crimes included shooting at victims in a car and threatening another person with a firearm inside a hotel room.
After his last arrest, in December 2015 on methamphetamine, weapons and other charges, he made a call from jail “reflecting that he considered shooting an officer when he was arrested,” court papers say.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury in June 2016 on the charges, which likely would have earned him a 10-year stint in federal prison.
Prosecutors sought to have him held in custody while his case played out. They note in court filings that he “had at least three bench warrants in his extensive criminal history that also included numerous probation and parole violations.”
But Nichole Littlecloud wanted her son placed in a drug rehabilitation program called New Bridge, and agreed to put up the $100,000 bond by posting her 1,550-square-foot home as security. “At the time I posted bond, the house was estimated to be worth $650,000, although I still owe $113,000 on the mortgage,” she wrote in a declaration to the court.
At an Aug. 24, 2016, detention hearing, the magistrate judge said he had decided to let Littlecloud go to New Bridge but was doing so “with grave misgivings,” court transcripts show.
“If you run away, your mom and dad will lose their house,” the magistrate judge said. “And I understand your dad is really ill right now, so it would be devastating to them.”
Littlecloud went to New Bridge for a time, and even offered to serve as an informant for the FBI, an offer agents rejected after deciding his information was “not actionable.”
By July 2017, Littlecloud missed two hearings at which he was expected enter guilty pleas. He disappeared, and by August, prosecutors were moving to force forfeiture of the bond as Littlecloud family members and friends posted urgent pleas to him on social media.
“People posted to his Instagram account, begging him to turn himself in so that his mother, father and son would not lose their home,” court papers say.
Nichole Littlecloud looked for her son and offered information to law enforcement trying to help them find him. She hired an attorney, Erin Crane, who scoured the Tenderloin, the Castro District and Civic Center area of San Francisco with photos of him that were handed out to police and nightclub bouncers looking for information, court papers say.
Finally, at midday on Aug. 30, Crane found a Facebook posting of a woman Littlecloud knew and a hint that she had been in the Arden area of Sacramento. Crane says she tried to call the woman and Littlecloud just after noon that day with no luck.
Those calls would have come at about the same time Deputy French and the CHP officers were taking part in a stolen-car investigation at the Ramada Inn at Watt Avenue and Auburn Boulevard. When deputies approached his door, Littlecloud opened fire. French was shot to death and the CHP officers wounded.
Littlecloud escaped in a car briefly, but crashed it and later died, leaving his parents to face the consequences of what he did.
Nichole Littlecloud wrote that she believed their son would follow the court’s orders because returning to his 5-year-old was “the number one priority in his life.”
The family lawyer has filed letters from the Littleclouds, as well as from five family friends, fellow church members and relatives urging the judge to let them stay in their home.
“These are (their) senior years, and it would be my prayer that all they have worked for all (their) lives not be taken from them,” wrote Jean Xenos, who said she has known Nichole Littlecloud for 55 years. “One tragedy should be enough.”
Deputy French, who was killed on the 10th anniversary of his parents’ death in a plane crash, had a family, too, his two sons and a sister.
They declined to comment to The Bee on what they think the judge should do.