BROOKLYN (CN) – The Suffolk County Police Department blockaded all three entrances of the Poospatuck Indian Reservation this month and harassed residents of the reservation, the tribe claims in Federal Court.
The tribe and its Chief Harry Wallace claim a disproportionate number of Native Americans had their vehicles searched, a Tribal Council meeting was stopped, and “some tribal members were afraid to attend their holiday religious services.”
The “pretext” the police gave for the blockade was to check seat belts, but the vehicle stops probably were aimed at the reservation’s smoke shops, whose tax-free cigarettes are far cheaper than New York City tobacco products, said Nick Abadjian, a spokesman for the Unkechauge Nation.
“Basically, there’s an ongoing case with the city against the smoke shop. The city attempted to shut down the smoke shops with an injunction, and the court denied it,” Abadjian said.
The blockade came on a Saturday morning, the day after the judge refused to grant the injunction.
The tribe’s attorney James Simermeyer was reluctant to speculate on the motivation for the “safety check” – but was also dubious about the official explanation.
“If you really want to do a seatbelt check, you’d put it on the highway with thousands of cars, not a reservation of 250 people,” Simermeyer said. “No matter what the pretext was, their constitutional rights were denied. That’s what we’re concerned about.”
Simermeyer said he has not heard of anyone receiving a summons or a ticket.
The complaint states that the Suffolk County Police also blockaded the reservation in 2005, for which they were condemned by the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission.
The tribe seeks a protective injunction.