Narragansett chief, 2 others convicted in smoke shop raid

By Eric Tucker
Providence, Rhode Island (AP) 4-08

Chief Thomas
In a case that pit Rhode Island against its only federally recognized Narragansett tribe, the chief and two other members were convicted April 4 of misdemeanor charges related to a 2003 raid on a tribal smoke shop.

Four other tribal members were cleared after a monthlong trial.

Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas was convicted of simple assault, Randy Noka was convicted of disorderly conduct and Hiawatha Brown was convicted of disorderly conduct and simple assault. The assault charge carries a maximum one-year prison sentence, while the other charges have shorter maximum penalties. Lawyers say it is highly unlikely any of the men will face jail time.

Four other people were acquitted of charges ranging from disorderly conduct to obstructing a police officer. The jury deliberated for four days before returning the verdict.

“The reality is, I think very clear, justice was done, and that included the verdict today,” Attorney General Patrick Lynch said after the verdict.

Defense lawyer William Devereaux, who represents six of the seven defendants, said the mixed verdict was disappointing for the tribe.

“It’s just unfortunate that this whole thing ever happened in the first place,” Devereaux said.

The 2,400-member tribe was not collecting state taxes on cigarettes at the shop on its land in Charlestown. It opened the shop in July 2003 as a challenge to state authority over tribal land after lawmakers ignored the economically depressed tribe’s proposal to build a casino.

A 1978 treaty subjects tribal land to state law, including tax provisions and a ban on casinos.

On July 14, 2003, two days after the shop opened, state troopers arrived with a warrant to shut the shop down. State police assembled about 50 officers for the raid and violence broke out as state officers ran into the shop’s parking lot. Police ignored demands from tribal police and Narragansett leaders to stop and show their search warrant.

The state alleged that tribe members attacked police. But tribal members said police used excessive force.

Immediately after the confrontation, Gov. Don Carcieri blamed state police for not following his orders to withdraw if they met resistance. The former state police superintendent testified before the trial that he never received those orders.

Breakdown of Verdicts
A breakdown of the jury verdicts on seven defendants arrested during the July 14, 2003, raid on a Narragansett tribal smoke shop.

Hiawatha Brown – Guilty: simple assault, disorderly conduct. Not guilty: resisting arrest.

John Brown – Not guilty: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

Thawn Harris – Not guilty: resisting arrest.

Adam Jennings – Not guilty: resisting arrest, disorderly conduct.

Bella Noka – Not guilty: disorderly conduct, simple assault, obstructing a police officer.

Randy Noka – Guilty: disorderly conduct. Not guilty: resisting arrest.

Matthew Thomas – Guilty: simple assault. Not guilty: resisting arrest, disorderly conduct.