Ex-tribal leader wears bulletproof vest to court

AP News
Posted: Feb 25, 2014 9:14 PM

The ousted leader of a small American Indian tribe in northeastern California wore a bulletproof vest to her first court appearance Tuesday on charges she shot and killed four people and tried to murder two others at a meeting to evict her from tribal housing.

Cherie Lash Rhoades, 44, was in Modoc County Superior Court in Alturas, Calif., for arraignment on four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. The charges carry a potential death penalty due to the multiple victims.

Judge David A. Mason agreed to continue the arraignment until Monday at the defense's request, said District Attorney Jordan Funk.

Defense attorney Antonio Alvarez told The Associated Press he had just gotten the case and had no comment.

Rhoades, of Cedarville, Calif., has been held without bail at an undisclosed location since her arrest Thursday outside the headquarters building in Alturas.

The Cedarville Rancheria Tribal Council was meeting that afternoon to consider her appeal of her eviction from tribal housing, tribal attorney Jack Duran has said. She had been suspended as tribal chairwoman just three weeks earlier, pending a federal investigation into allegations that she embezzled at least $50,000 from the tribe. Her brother Rurik Davis, 50, was serving as interim tribal chairman.

During the hearing, Rhoades opened fire with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, killing Davis, two other Tribal Council members and a tribal administrator, court documents allege.

The slain council members included Rhoades' 19-year-old niece, Angel Penn, who was holding her newborn baby on her lap when she was killed, Duran said. The baby wasn't hurt and was being placed with a family member.

After running out of bullets, Rhoades grabbed a kitchen knife, police said. She was stabbing someone in the parking lot when officers arrested her, court documents say.

Rhoades was later transferred to an undisclosed location because the husband of one of the victims works at the county jail, authorities said.

Rhoades worked at the tribe's gas station and convenience store in Cedarville, Calif., about 25 miles east of Alturas on the other side of the Warner Mountains.

Her son, Jack Stockton, was ousted as vice chairman and evicted from tribal housing on the same grounds as Rhoades, Duran said. Stockton wasn't at the hearing when the shooting broke out, and he has no listed phone number.

Also killed in the shooting were Rhoades' nephew Glenn Calonicco, 30, another council member, and tribal administrator Shelia Lynn Russo, 47.

Two women who were wounded survived bullet wounds and also were cut with a knife. The criminal complaint identified them as Melissa and Monica Davis, Rurik Davis' daughters.

Authorities have said they were alerted to the gun and knife attack when a woman covered in blood ran to nearby City Hall and rang a bell to get in.

The Cedarville Rancheria is a federally recognized tribe with 35 registered members. The Rancheria owns 26 acres in Cedarville, where most members reside in nine one-story houses built in the 1950s.

Vote Against America, Vote Democrat
Michael Reagan

Investigators have been looking into whether Rhoades embezzled federal grant money meant for the Cedarville Rancheria, a person familiar with the tribe's situation told the AP last week on the condition of anonymity.

The tribe had received an Indian housing grant for $50,399 in 2012 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a news release on the department's website. Duran said he couldn't confirm or deny that was the money in question, adding the amount could be less "or a lot more."

Police have said they are still working on a motive, but a nephew who lived with Rhoades, Jacob Penn, has said she snapped under the pressure of her brother's attempt to evict her.

Eviction from tribal housing is a serious punishment for American Indians. But Rhoades and Stockton were not being removed from tribal rolls and would continue to receive their portion of $1.1 million in gambling revenue shared by casino tribes with the Rancheria, which has no casino, Duran said.

The tribe was busy cleaning the headquarters and was unsure if it would resume using the facility after the slayings, Duran said.