August 18, 2023

Former WNBA Star Sentenced in Domestic Violence Case

A federal judge sentenced Shoni Schimmel to two years of probation on Friday.


and Nika Bartoo-Smith

WARNING: This story describes violence against women.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series that illuminates the historical context of tribal law in the Pacific Northwest and examines cases where tribes and tribal members have used federal courts to secure recognition of their rights under federal law. The series also explores the growing authority of tribal courts and their role in exercising the inherent rights of sovereign Indigenous nations, as well as the way federal and state laws restrict tribal courts’ operation. Read the entire series here.

Shoni Schimmel, a basketball icon in Native communities across the country, pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault on Friday. She won’t serve time in prison, but will pay restitution and attend a domestic violence treatment program.

Though she initially pleaded not guilty, Schimmel admitted Friday to headbutting her ex-girlfriend in the face and pulling her hair on June 13, 2021, leaving her with a bloody lip. In exchange for her guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Pamela Paaso dropped a strangulation charge against Schimmel, along with a charge of assault resulting in substantial bodily injury – both felonies.

It’s unclear why federal prosecutors took the case, instead of prosecutors at Umatilla Tribal Court. The tribe has worked to expand its jurisdiction of domestic violence cases.

Schimmel, 31, sat quietly next to her own attorney while Paaso described the charges.

“Ms. Schimmel, do you agree the government’s statements are accurate?” U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman asked afterward.

“I was involved,” Schimmel said.

“And you agree with Ms. Paaso's summary of the facts?” Beckerman asked.

“Yes, I agree,” Schimmel said.

Schimmel, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, was facing a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. But under her plea deal, the government did not seek a prison sentence. The only question was how long her government-supervised release would continue. Federal prosecutors asked Judge Beckerman to sentence Schimmel to two years of probation, while Schimmel’s attorney argued for just one year.

Beckerman split the difference, sentencing Schimmel to two years of probation, but instructing her attorney to communicate with the court after one year.

“If everything is going well and Ms. Schimmel has completed the requirements of probation, we can discuss the possibility of termination of supervision,” Beckerman said.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Schimmel can’t apply for a loan or a line of credit until she pays $2,817 in restitution – $800 of which will go directly to her ex-girlfriend. She must also avoid all contact with her ex, complete 40 hours of community service and participate in a domestic violence treatment program.

Schimmel grew up playing ball in Oregon, attending both Hermiston and Franklin high schools. In college, she helped take the University of Louisville to the NCAA women’s basketball championship game.

After a successful college basketball career, Schimmel was drafted eighth overall pick by the Atlanta Dream in the 2014 WNBA draft, where she played in two All-Star Games. Schimmel ended her WNBA career in 2018, after playing for the Las Vegas Aces.

Schimmel and her ex-girlfriend became romantically involved two years later, when Schimmel was 27 and her ex-girlfriend was 21.

‘Shoni convinced me I was alone’

Wearing a long black dress, Schimmel’s ex-girlfriend stepped up to a microphone to read her victim impact statement. She paused before she began to get permission from the judge to wear noise-canceling headphones while reading her statement.

“It’s been two years, and I still continue to heal from this,” she told the court. She explained that her family and Schimmel’s family were friends before they started dating. Then, when she was 21, she said, Schimmel asked her out to lunch.

“I didn’t think too much of it,” she said.

But the next day, Schimmel had posted the photo she took of the two of them at lunch on social media, with the caption “if you don’t know, now you know.”

“She never asked me to be her girlfriend,” Schimmel’s ex said.

Later, she said, she moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and got an apartment with two members of her basketball team.

“Without any plans or talking, [Schimmel] moved in with me,” she said. “And I let her.”

That’s where the abuse began, she said.

“Right after our first argument, she asked me to marry her down the street at the wedding chapel, with her grandmother’s ring. Luckily for me, it didn’t happen.”

At the end of the school year, she dropped out.

“I fell into a deep depression due to the abuse intensifying,” she said.

She moved home with her parents and said she assumed Schimmel would move back in with her own family.

“But that didn’t happen,” she said. “She moved in with my parents as well. And that’s when the abuse went from verbal to physical.”

She said Schimmel physically abused her for the first time on the day before her knee surgery. Afterward, she said, Schimmel apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

“Argument after argument,” she said. “Then it was always flowers, a sorry card and love bombing.”

The pair moved back and forth between their hometowns before settling near Pendleton. There, she said, Schimmel isolated her from her friends and family and wouldn’t let her get a job to support herself.

“Shoni convinced me I was alone and no one loved me,” she said.

She said the incident at issue in court on Friday “gave her a chance to leave.”

“June 14th wasn’t the first time she’s been abusive, but it was the last time I let myself be abused by her,” she said. “I give gratitude to this incident, despite the trauma I endured during it, because who knows where I would be if I didn’t have that chance to leave?”

Since they broke up, she said her family has told her they were “always on alert, 24/7,” during her relationship with Schimmel.

“They never knew if they would receive a call that something bad has happened to me,” she said. “They noticed her patterns way before I did.”

‘To Indian country, this is not who I am’

Schimmel has been under federal supervision for two years while the charges were pending. During that time, she has undergone anger management classes, avoided all contact with her ex, and returned home to live on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, according to court documents.

Huseby responded to the victim’s statement, after Judge Beckerman overruled an objection from Paaso.

“I think I have to have the ability to rebut an impression that I don’t think is accurate,” Huseby said. “There’s obviously media here and we have evidence that some things that were said weren’t accurate.”

He went on to describe a two-sided dynamic of “unkind behaviors” at the hands of both women — illustrating instances of “jealous” behavior from Schimmel’s ex-girlfriend that he said included her punching Schimmel in the mouth after she danced with another woman and stabbing a basketball that belonged to Schimmel.

Huseby also described moments leading up to the June 13, 2021 incident, claiming that the argument began as an accusation of infidelity against Schimmel.

“During the argument, Ms. Schimmel became frustrated and struck the victim in the face, causing her harm,” Huseby said. “That is what happened in this relationship. Ms. Schimmel is here to accept responsibility for her role in the relationship.”

Prior to sentencing, Schimmel read a brief statement to the court.

“I do not condone violence and I am aware of the seriousness of these actions,” Schimmel told the court. “I am only human and I know I’m not perfect. To Indian country, this is not who I am and it won’t be who I am.”

Lead image: Shoni Schimmel's sentencing hearing was held in the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. Photo by Karina Brown / Underscore News

About the author

Karina Brown

As managing editor, Karina guides Underscore’s mission to illuminate the strength and vibrancy of Indigenous communities as well as the challenges they face. She oversees and assists Underscore’s talented reporters on a wide variety of projects, strategizes about long-term story choices, manages our organization’s collaborations and partnerships, and does her own reporting for Underscore. Karina started out in journalism in 2005, covering courts in Oregon. She has reported from a wide spectrum of places, from the chaos of far-right extremist rallies to the hushed decorum of federal courtrooms, and has focused her coverage on environmental issues, policing and tribal sovereignty. She likes to relax with a run in the woods, a ballet class, or by drawing and painting.

Twitter: karinapdx


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