SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A rural Central California county with a lucrative Indian casino is beset by a skirmish between three tribal factions, one of which set up a "purported" court which took action against the sheriff, the sheriff claims in court.
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson sued the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, Chukchansi Economic Development Authority and Chukchansi Indian Housing Authority in Federal Court.
Also sued are "Lewis faction" leaders Jack Duran Jr., Donna Howard, Reggie Lewis, Chance Alberta, Carl Bushman, Irene Waltz, Lynn Chenot, David Castillo and Melvin Espe, all sued "in (their) purported official capacities."
Lead defendant Duran, for example, is sued "in his purported official capacity as judge of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians Tribal Court."
According to the sheriff's lawsuit, the history of bad blood in the Picayune Rancheria goes back to 1983 and the resolution of a class action challenge to the California Rancheria Act of 1958.
That act terminated dozens of Indian tribes and stripped members of their Native American status - including the Picayune Rancheria.
After a federal judge restored the rancheria's status, the Bureau of Indian Affairs worked with two families - the Ramirezes and the Wyatts - to create a tribal government. Ultimately, the Wyatt descendants gained control of tribal leadership and adopted a constitution in 1988.
But the power struggle continues.
Madera County and the Picayune Rancheria clashed in 2003, after the tribe finished building the Chukchansi casino and the county reassessed the land for property taxes. In 2007, a federal judge declared the rancheria sovereign Native American land, but gave the Madera County Sheriff's Department limited access to it for law enforcement purposes.
Anderson claims his department has been called to the rancheria frequently since 2011 to respond to election disputes. The tribal council last year fractured into three factions, each claiming its leader to be chairman of the tribe - the Ayala faction, the Lewis faction and the Reid faction.
This year the Lewis faction demanded that Anderson remove the Ayala faction from the tribal government compound. Andersons says he refused, partly because he didn't know which faction was legally in power, and partly because of uncertainty whether the 2007 settlement agreement gave him the power to forcibly remove tribal government officials from the rancheria.
Two days later, Anderson says, he learned that the Lewis faction's armed security force was planning a takeover of the compound and was recruiting other members of the tribe. Anderson claims the Lewis faction also brought in a helicopter, dump truck and armed recruits to stage the coup.
"The situation posed a serious and substantial risk of injury and/or death to those involved as well as to non-Indians," Anderson says in the lawsuit. "Pursuant to the 2007 memorandum of understanding and federal law, and consistent with governing law and his authority (as were all of his actions at issue), Sheriff Anderson marshaled forces from his department, the California Department of Justice, the Fresno police and sheriff's departments and the Mariposa Sheriff's Department. Sheriff Anderson's efforts deterred the threatened unlawful, armed and violent conflict, but at a cost of approximately $70,000 to the county and local taxpayers." (Parentheses in complaint.)