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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Armed Takeover of Casino Tied to Tribal Feud

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - A judge shut down an Indian casino after a battle for control of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians took a violent turn as one of the three feuding factions launched an armed takeover of the lucrative gaming hall.

On Thursday evening, the Tex McDonald faction and around 10 others executed a takeover of the casino in Coarsegold - 40 minutes northeast of Fresno - using firearms and Tasers, according to a federal lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

"Security personnel for different factions were held at gun point and/or tased during the takeover," the complaint states. "As the incident unfolded, some of the casino security, not a part of the McDonald faction, were able to maintain control of the surveillance room and are still there."

Security personnel evacuated the casino and contacted the Madera County Sheriff's Office, which was given permission earlier this month by a federal judge to patrol the casino.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill issued a temporary restraining order and injunction. O'Neill ordered all tribal members and "factions" from attempting to take control of the casino, from deploying tribal police or other armed personnel "of any nature" within 1,000 yards of the casino, and from possessing, carrying or displaying firearms "on the Tribal Properties."

This is not the first violent clash between the three sparring groups - the Lewis/Ayala faction, the MacDonald faction, and the Reid faction - as they vie for tribal leadership.

In February 2012, an attempt by one of the factions to take over the tribal office led to an individual being stabbed and required the intervention of the sheriff's office. A year later, the faction occupying the tribal office reportedly threatened violence to anyone who attempted to remove them.

In response to this week's violent takeover, the state filed its lawsuit declaring that the tribe has breached its gaming compact, in which it agrees to ensure the physical safety of patrons and employees.

"Emergency relief is required to maintain the public health and safety," the six-page complaint states. "The facts alleged in this complaint further demonstrate that the state is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent any endangerment or threat to the public health and safety."

The state seeks a temporary restraining order that would prohibit any Chukchansi tribal group from attempting to use force to "change the circumstances currently in effect with respect to the operation of or control over the casino," according to the complaint.

Tribal officers and employees should also be prohibited from deploying any armed personnel within 100 yards of the casino or any of the tribal properties around the casino, including the nearby government offices and compounds, the state says.

Besides its inner turmoil, the tribe also faces the possible closure of its casino for failing to submit audits and financial statements. The National Indian Gaming Commission issued an order earlier this week that the casino will be closed on Oct. 27 if the paperwork is not handed over.

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