Thu, 04/09/2015 - 6:00am admin
Black Lodge Sen. Stewart cautions against interference by ‘outside entities’
By Andrew Turck, Big Horn County News
The following is the second part of a series on the tribal response to increasing drug use on the Crow Reservation. The third article will examine various issues with laws pertaining to tribal members.
A system of law enforcement whose very discussion on the Crow Reservation was referred to as “political suicide” by the former Big Horn County sheriff in a May 2014 candidate panel has since been thrust into the limelight. While he was proud of the working relationship between the county Sheriff’s Office and Bureau of Indian Affairs during his two terms, Lawrence “Pete” Big Hair said at the panel that he didn’t believe tribal sentiment would favor an attempt to cross-deputize the two agencies.
If the system were possible, he said, it would help cover the county area and solve jurisdictional problems: No longer could a suspected criminal escape sheriff’s deputies by fleeing to the Crow Reservation; no longer could they evade the BIA by going off-reservation.
Nine months later, Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote came out in favor of cross-deputization before an audience of hundreds of during the Feb. 17 meeting of the Crow Tribal General Council. He said such a system would help “get rid of the drug problem” on the reservation and would require unified support. The crowd responded by clapping and cheering.
“I will be your No. 1 back-up,” said Pryor Sub Office supervisor Christine DeCrane, who had initiated a discussion about drugs during the meeting that ended in the chairman’s call for the general council’s help. She said there weren’t enough tribal police to monitor Pryor and was worried about drug dealers influencing her family.
“I will probably go after those people if and when they go after my grandsons,” she said following Old Coyote’s speech. “It will be reservation justice, I guess, and then I’ll have to serve time.”
One month later at the Legislative Branch chambers in Crow Agency, a March 26 meeting of law enforcement from across the state and tribal officials convened to address the reservation drug problem. The meeting – which County Attorney Jay Harris said might be unprecedented – covered possible alleviants, including cross-deputization.
A proponent for this system of law enforcement, Shawn Real Bird, spoke to the assembly two weeks after his parents’ Garryowen home was broken into by a woman they believed to be high on methamphetamine. His mother, Ramona Real Bird, called BIA officers to respond and they did…after the woman jumped out of her husband, Charlie’s truck as he attempted to drive her into town. The BIA response time for the incident was clocked at 14 minutes after the call.
“‘Cross-deputization’: It’s a word that some people don’t want. It’s a word that some people want. It’s a word that’s going to make some people fear,” Shawn said from within his parents’ home. “But it’s a word that we need to utilize to protect our people – the healthy people – from the meth addicts.”
One by one, law enforcement stood up from a long table placed in the center of the chambers and spoke in favor of cross-deputizing the Sheriff’s Office with the BIA. The first in line was Lt. Brian Stark, a BIA officer with 23 years of experience.
“My question is, ‘Why wouldn’t you do cross-deputization?’” Stark asked the approximately 60 people packed into the room. “Other law enforcement officials are here and ready to help. I can’t see an answer, other than the sovereignty issue. They’re still going to be filing [cases] in tribal court. They’re not going to be taking anything off the reservation.
“We’re short-handed. We need help. Why wouldn’t we cross-deputize?”
So, why not?
For Crow Sen. Conrad “C.J.” Stewart of the Black Lodge District, to accept cross-deputization would be to undermine tribal jurisdictional authority.
He says this not as someone who hasn’t been affected by drugs, but as someone who has lost loved ones as a result of the epidemic. His little brother died after being shot “point blank on the streets of Crow Agency” by someone who was high on pills, alcohol and meth.
“It’s not jurisdiction defined by man or given by man. It’s a jurisdiction that has been retained by our chiefs in our treaties,” he said. “Cross-deputization, to me, is having an outside entity come in to do our job for us. I’m totally against that.”
If an “outside entity” such as the Sheriff’s Office were to come into the reservation, Stewart said, they would eventually begin extraditing tribal members for petty crimes. This statement runs directly contrary to what was stated by law enforcement during the March 26 meeting.
Stewart was unable to attend the meeting, as he was taking care of issues concerning tribal workplace development.
“It’s going to come down to [extradition],” Stewart said. “Once that door’s open, then they’re going to come in. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.”
Crow tribal members, if accused of a petty crime, stand trial in tribal court. Non-members can be removed from the reservation – and stand trial in a U.S. court – if they “commit a wrong or depredation upon the person or property of anyone” on the reservation, as stated in the “bad men” clause of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.
To make up for the lack of cross-deputized personnel, Stewart said the tribe currently has the ability to hire more police officers to lower the drug problem. The Department of Justice, he added, has the responsibility to facilitate the implementation of said police force.
“We have the qualified people within our reservation,” he said.
One day before the law enforcement meeting convened, Stewart met with over 30 people including elders from the 107th Committee to set up a Neighborhood Watch program for his district.
In addition to the Watch, he scheduled a self-defense class for women at the Black Lodge Community Center in Dunmore.
He hopes towns on the reservation such as Crow Agency, Decker, Pryor and Wyola follow his example and establish Neighborhood Watches as well.
Henry Rides Horse, cabinet head for the Department of Crowland Security, said cross-deputization has been talked about in many meetings before the one in March, often to little avail. He’s not personally in favor of cross-deputizing, though he admitted to not being entirely sure whether the system would be good or bad.
Like Stewart, he believes the tribe has the resources to control the problem.
“The majority of the Crow people are very protective of our jurisdiction, of our sovereignty,” he said. “The Crow Tribe can handle its own.”
Stewart might have some convincing to do for his side, however, as both current Sheriff Robert Simpson and BIA Police Chief Jose Figueroa expressed support for cross-deputization of their forces. In speeches, Simpson and Figueroa tried to calm the assembly, with each saying they had no intention of violating tribal sovereignty.
“There seems to be a lot of fear I hear north of the reservation and on the reservation; people are afraid of cross-deputization,” Simpson said. “How it works with me is if the Crow Tribe deputizes my people, I will also deputize theirs. That scares some of the non-Native folks and I know it scares you folks a little bit, me coming to your door.”
Simpson, one might note, is a white person. Figueroa is half Mexican, and grew up Assiniboine and Sioux on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
While the initial idea of cross-deputizing might be initially disconcerting, Simpson said, it would also allow for faster response times; he wouldn’t need to wait for Figueroa to take a Native suspect off his hands as is sometimes currently required. In the meantime, Figueroa could follow up on another reported incident and possibly save someone’s property, or even someone’s life.
While speaking on a variety of subjects including the proposed drug task force and the need to protect children in the area, Figueroa said he was sometimes surprised when tribal members would ask him to make sheriff’s deputies leave the area.
“Truly understand that we don’t want to throw people in jail, we want to help,” Figueroa said. “The Crow people are the captains of this ship.”
Figueroa’s second statement is something both he and Rides Horse can agree on.
“The Legislature and tribal officials will get together, talk about it, then probably take it to the big council, where the people voice their vote,” Rides Horse said. “I think that’s when we’ll know if cross-deputization is going to pass or not.”