In California, nine members of the Picayune Rancheria Of Chukchansi Indians have filed lawsuits in federal court against various Madera County law enforcement officials alleging malicious prosecution, false arrest, economic losses, emotional distress and excessive bail.
According to a report from The Fresno Bee newspaper, the six actions from the group have been brought against Medera County’s former District Attorney, Michael Keitz, as well as retired sheriff John Anderson in the United States District Court For The Eastern District Of California in Fresno and seek damages alongside compensation for lost wages and bail as well as attorney and court costs.
The suits, which also name current Medera County District Attorney David Linn alongside prosecutor Nick Fogg and other members of the Madera County Sheriff’s Office as defendants, reportedly stem from the plaintiffs’ arrests after they tried to wrest control of the Chukchansi Gold Resort And Casino from a rival tribal faction on October 9, 2014.
The National Indian Gaming Commission had threatened to close the Chukchansi Gold Resort And Casino two days earlier because the property had not filed audits for 2012 and 2013. As a result, a deputized tribal group led by Tex McDonald subsequently entered the facility via a pre-dawn raid in an effort to obtain the required documentation and in the process handcuffed and detained members of a rival faction led by Reggie Lewis.
The lawsuits reportedly allege that the tribal police officers had given Keitz advance notice about their plans with the Lewis faction subsequently held only until Medera County law enforcement officials arrived soon after. However, instead of formally arresting the members of the splinter group or leading them off of tribal grounds, the local sheriff’s deputies immediately released the party outside and the group immediately made its way back into the Chukchansi Gold Resort And Casino via a basement entrance.
This reportedly led to members of the McDonald police force and Lewis team fighting each other in the cellar and resulted in the pulling of a fire alarm, which sent hundreds of hotel and casino patrons as well as employees running from the building.
The following day, United States District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill supported a motion from California Attorney General Kamala Harris to close the Chukchansi Gold Resort And Casino and the enterprise would not re-open until the last day of 2015 after which time the Lewis faction had filed the required audit materials.
But, the end of October of 2014 saw Keitz issue arrest warrants for McDonald and members of his police force along with a trio of affiliated security guards on 27 charges that included false imprisonment and kidnapping, which led to the group being held in jail with bails as high as $1 million. As a result, they claim, some lost their homes and saw their families break up.
“It has been emotionally distressing; an absolute nightmare,” John Cayanne, a former deputized member of the McDonald team, told The Fresno Bee. “This has caused divorces, losses of homes, affected clearances and employment capability. They hadn’t spoken with both sides before forming an opinion. The investigation was done in 72 hours but they had 600 hours of video available for review. If they had looked at that, the case wouldn’t have been filed in the first place.”
The McDonald faction reportedly declared that it had been running the tribe’s business affairs and was in charge of the Chukchansi Gold Resort And Casino for much of 2014 before the Lewis group got inside via a pre-dawn raid of its own in August of that year. It moreover claimed that their arrests, which took place just before a contested election for district attorney, were politically motivated and that the local sheriff’s office had improperly carried out the tenets of Public Law 280. This decree gives tribal police officials the authority to temporarily detain suspected non-aboriginal criminals until local or state law enforcement arrives.
However, April saw Madera County Superior Court Judge Dale Blea disagree with the original collection of lawsuits, which led to the group filing their cases in federal court.
Mark Coleman, a defense attorney that represented the men in their original criminal cases, told The Fresno Bee that the McDonald faction’s policing authority had come came from a tribal council resolution.
“They were operating under the belief that they were lawfully deputized law enforcement officers,” Coleman told the newspaper.
He declared that the tribal police officers had come “from a strong history of law enforcement and military service” and that the original criminal charges had made an “incalculable impact” on their reputations.
“Each one of these guys has just an impeccable background,” Coleman told the newspaper. “I was going into court and meeting in jail with a Purple Heart recipient, a Silver Star recipient who fought as a Navy Seal.”