Judge Tosses Tribe’s Case Against Sheriff

           SACRAMENTO (CN) – A federal judge dismissed the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s claims that Inyo County officials illegally arrested and prosecuting a tribal police officer for “impersonating” a police officer by trying to enforce a restraining order against a non-Indian on the reservation.
     U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. ruled that the tribe did not show that a justiciable case or controversy triggered the California federal court’s jurisdiction.
     The Bishop Paiute, a federally recognized tribe in the upper Owns Valley above Bishop in a remote part of eastern California, sued Inyo County, Sheriff William Lutze and District Attorney Thomas Hardy in March, claiming they violated federal common law by arresting tribal Officer Daniel Johnson.
     Johnson had responded to a call from a tribal member who said his non-Indian ex-wife was causing a disturbance at his home on the 875-acre reservation.
     The woman was in her car outside the home and refused to get out of it despite Johnson’s request, according to the complaint. Johnson, who had identified himself as “tribal police,” responded by Tasering her repeatedly.
     Two weeks later, Inyo County prosecutors filed a felony criminal complaint against Johnson on charges of assault with a stun gun, false imprisonment, falsely representing himself as a public officer, and simple battery.
     The tribe said that Inyo County Sheriff Lutze issued a cease and desist order complaining that tribal officers “are continuously committing serious violations of California criminal statutes,” and “have been employing unlawful force on subjects during the unlawful exercise of authority.” The sheriff demanded that tribal police immediately stop “the unlawful exercise of California peace officer authority.”
     The tribe responded by sending a letter to the sheriff stating that they had directed their officers to comply with the cease and desist order. This correspondence makes the litigation moot, despite the tribe’s arguments otherwise, Burrell wrote in his July 13 ruling.
     “The tribe appears to root its allegations of an actual controversy in concerns about the warning contained in the Cease and Desist Order, which states the tribe’s police officers could be subject to criminal prosecution and/or a civil action if they exercise what Sheriff Lutze characterizes as ‘unlawful force during the unlawful exercise of authority.'”
     But the tribe’s letter to the sheriff took care of that. “The tribe therefore has not shown the ‘immediacy and reality’ of a ‘substantial controversy between the parties’ that is required to establish justiciable case or controversy,'” Burrell wrote.
     The tribe is disappointed in the court’s dismissal, said Dorothy Alther, executive director of California Indian Legal Services.
     “The tribe is essentially back to where it started from. The fundamental questions raised in the tribe’s lawsuit have not been addressed and tribal law enforcement officers remain uncertain on whether they will be arrested and criminally prosecuted for performing their legal duties under tribal authority and defined by federal law,” Alther said.
     The court’s finding that there was no controversy in the case “fails to acknowledge that a tribal police officer is still being prosecuted and there is no indication that future tribal officers own’t be prosecuted,” she said.
     Attorneys for the other parties could not be reached for comment.

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