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Native American Actress Misty Upham: 'She Deserved Better' From Auburn Police

caption: Misty Upham arrives for a screening at the Cannes film festival in Cannes, France, on May 17, 2013.
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Misty Upham arrives for a screening at the Cannes film festival in Cannes, France, on May 17, 2013.
Todd Williamson/Invision/AP, File

Native American actress Misty Upham had an impressive resume, having appeared on screen with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the film "August: Osage County," and with Benicio del Toro in "Jimmy P." But her personal life was in stark contrast to her Hollywood dream.

In October 2014, Upham was living in Auburn with her parents when she went missing. A recent investigative report on the disappearance by Kristen Millares Young for The Guardian found the Auburn police did very little to help find her.

Upham had moved from California to Washington to help take care of her father who was recovering from a stroke. Upham also suffered from mental illness and was accessing health care through the Indian Health Service.

"She needed to go through a process to reapply for her prescriptions to control her anxiety," Young told Jeannie Yandel on The Record. "She had been in Washington for months, and one by one, these prescriptions were running out. According to her friends and family, she turned to alcohol to try to dull this constant anxiety and panic that she suffered."

Seven weeks before she went missing, she was arrested outside of a deli across the street from the family's apartment. An employee called the police and said Upham was shoeless and hiding in the bushes outside the store.

Young reported that when the police arrived on the scene, they dragged Upham from the bushes, handcuffed her and put her in the squad car. They didn't believe her claims of being a movie star and openly mocked her.

"One of the officers said to her, 'Well if you're so famous, if you're an actress, why don't you call up your friend Robin Williams and have him come save you?'"

Upham was involuntarily committed that night. Her father, Charles Upham, wrote in a Facebook update that she had a swollen jaw, black eye and scratches and bruises on her shoulder. He said his daughter didn't remember how she was injured.

"When Auburn police later characterized their interaction with Misty Upham, they said that they had acted with professionalism and compassion," Young said. "In this officer's own report from that evening, he admitted that he mocked her and her lack of agency."

Misty Upham went missing on Oct. 5, 2014. She had been inconsolable and left the apartment after her father called the police.

"The police made him go back upstairs to search the apartment — they did not believe that she was not there — and those were critical minutes," Young said. "We know from the King County medical examiner's estimate that she died around 9 p.m. that same day in woods that are within very short walking distance. But what we don't know is when those police officers were with her father, was she already in the woods?"

Upham had been missing for close to two weeks when her body was found by family friends. But according to Young, Auburn police didn't do enough to find her.

"Their search was intermittent, and I know that had it been one of their daughters who had gone missing, they would have created a radically different response. If you look at other investigations that they were conducting, they use their Facebook page as a way to gather tips, they gave updates. They didn't even go to Facebook to distribute a photo of Misty. In fact the only time that they began sharing on social media or via press release was when constant pressure from the public and the media made it more efficient for them to do so rather than responding individually. That's a bare minimum to announce that a member of a community is missing and ask for tips.

"Misty Upham was treated like her life had no value. I think about this person who against all odds had accomplished tremendous things — she was a preeminent Native actress and she was young still. All of that grit and determination would be dismissed because she was a brown woman who occasionally acted erratically in front of the police.

"We don't know what would have made the difference for her, but that she was not given that chance — she deserved better."

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