Tense, Armed Standoff at Indian Casino


SACRAMENTO (CN) - A rivalry among "armed tribal factions" for casino profits in Northern California has become an "imminent threat" to the public and tribal members, forcing California to file a lawsuit to seek emergency relief, the state claims in Federal Court.
     California sued the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians on Tuesday, seeking "emergency and other appropriate relief to prevent an imminent threat to the public health and safety."
     Opposing tribal factions claim the right to control the Rolling Hills Casino, south of Red Bluff.
     One faction has warned "that 'by and through its Tribal Police, [it] intends to very soon physically repossess and close' the casino located in Corning, California. This is an imminent threat to the public health and safety of Paskenta's members, the casino's patrons and employee's and the state's residents," according to the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Kamala Harris.
     The attorney general seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, and a finding that the tribe breached its gaming license contract.
     Paskenta entered into a gaming compact with California in 1999, through which it owns and operates the casino, in Tehama County. The compact allows the state to take the tribe to court if there appears to be any danger to the public resulting from the casino, according to the lawsuit.
     The tribal dispute began during the annual General Council meeting on April 12, when a quorum voted to suspend 76 members from the tribe on allegations that they have no familial ties to the Paskenta Band, according to the Corning Observer.
     The General Council also removed four of the five members of the Tribal Council - Leslie Lohse, David Swearinger, Geraldine Freeman and Allen Swearinger - leaving only Chairman Andy Freeman.
     The General Council elected four new members to replace those who left. The Tribal Council is now led by Andy Freeman, who secured the casino with hired, armed security, according to the Observer.
     The four ousted members maintain that they are the duly elected Tribal Council of the Paskenta Band and have established their own Tribal Court and Tribal Police Department.
     On June 9, this faction's hired police force unsuccessfully attempted to close the casino. After receiving a tip about the faction's plan, the Tehama County Sheriff's Office sent 12 deputies to the scene to keep the peace, according to Red Bluff Daily News.
     In that attempt, the removed faction issued a statement that they were closing the casino to remedy its illegal operation by unauthorized management and attorneys. The statement said the operation was "in response to the military-style armed takeover of the casino and other tribal properties by non-tribal forces on April 12."
     The same day, the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued an administrative cease and desist order, which "recited that the security force for one faction had barricaded the entrance to the casino and that armed agents of the other faction covered the perimeter of the casino property. The BIA further recited that local law enforcement reported the situation as 'very volatile' and 'tensions are high,'" according to the state's lawsuit.
     A press release issued on June 10 by the Freeman-led faction stated that "[c]ontrary to a misleading press release from the recently suspended members of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, there is no tribal dispute or risk of violence at the Rolling Hills Casino. As ordered in the recent letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the members of the tribe have resolved the dispute in accordance with the tribe's governing documents and processes."
     Freeman claimed that a May 10 General Council meeting affirmed his faction as the Tribal Council, and that "Rolling Hills Casino is fully operational despite a bogus press release issued on June 9 saying that it was 'shut down.' It appears that the only individuals who think there is a dispute are the 10 percent who were suspended because they did not meet the criteria for tribal membership and allegedly embezzled millions from tribal accounts."
     The most recent confrontation between the two factions came on June 11, when the four ousted members and others entered the casino, where they were met by a group of 100 tribal members who kept them out, according to the Corning Observer.
     Emails sent to state agents through one of the faction's attorneys on June 9 and 10 state, among other things, that the unfolding situation at Rolling Hills Casino "could erupt in violence," and that "[r]equests for mutual aid are forthcoming," according to the state's complaint.
     The emails "paint the picture of a volatile situation involving armed tribal factions that threatens the public health," the lawsuit states.
     The attorney general says that Paskenta continues to materially breach its compact with the state and a temporary restraining order and injunctions should be issued prohibiting the tribe from deploying tribal police or other armed personnel within 100 yards of the casino or having firearms on tribal property.