Documents: People held to shield image of Montana tribe

AP News
|
Posted: Jul 19, 2016 1:45 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Tribal officials in Montana detained dozens of people because they didn't want street people or transients to be the face of a rodeo event on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, according to tribal and federal documents.

The Fort Peck tribes' executive board "wanted these people picked up and detained temporary (sic) somewhere until the Stampede weekend was over," the minutes of the Aug. 1, 2013, law and justice committee meeting said.

The minutes and documents summarizing a Bureau of Indian Affairs investigation appear to support claims in a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of 31 tribal members. They claim they were hauled to the tribal jail's yard that July and held without adequate shelter, toilet facilities and medical care before being released a day after the Wild Horse Stampede.

Officials from the tribes, bureau, Roosevelt County and Wolf Point declined comment on the lawsuit and the documents.

Local law enforcement officers told BIA Special Agent Angela King that they questioned the legality of the roundup but were told it had been ordered by the tribe. A tribal corrections employee said she protested but was told she needed to follow orders to keep her job, according to investigation documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The names of those who were interviewed were redacted.

An unidentified sergeant reported telling a lieutenant that "it was wrong to just pick up people who are drunk and lying around." But the sergeant followed orders after being told there was a tribal resolution in place.

One of the people who reported being detained said he was handcuffed, was not notified of any charges, and was not read his Miranda rights, according to the federal agency's documents. He said he asked why he was being arrested and was told "the Stampede committee wanted 'them' picked up."

Tribal court lay advocate Mary Cleland said she learned about the homeless roundup when people who had been released came to her house asking her to file a complaint in tribal court. She explained that it was a federal issue and wrote to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in October 2013 requesting an investigation.

A BIA Internal Affairs officer interviewed the tribe's chief of police by phone in November 2013. The chief, whose name also is redacted, said the tribe wanted the transients picked up to prevent them from panhandling stampede visitors and that he didn't realize there was a problem with carrying out the tribal board's directive, documents state.

King, the BIA investigator, traveled to Wolf Point in April 2014. She told Cleland the BIA called the tribe after receiving her letter and that the tribe denied the allegations, calling Cleland a liar and a troublemaker, Cleland said.

Cleland said she rented a restaurant's coffee room and walked the streets, begging those who had been arrested that day to come in and tell their stories to King. Around 30 people showed up, Cleland said.

Despite King's investigation, it doesn't appear anyone was held accountable, which prompted the lawsuit, Cleland said.

"In all reality it seems like they got away with it," Cleland said.

Less than three weeks after the roundup, tribal law and justice committee members discussed whether things should have been handled in a more humanitarian way and whether the "street people should be looked at for rehabilitation rather than punishment," according to the meeting minutes.

Suggestions included having the tribal addiction treatment program intervene and setting up temporary shelters for the homeless in tribal communities.