Coeur d’Alene police can arrest non-tribal members

By Simmi Aujla
Boise, Idaho (AP) March 2010

A county sheriff has agreed to restore arrest powers to police officers with the Coeur d’Alene tribe that they haven’t had since a cross-deputization pact fell apart three years ago.

Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts, who was threatened with losing his say in just who tribal officers could arrest, reached a tentative pact Wednesday with the tribe. State officials hope it will resolve a dispute that some said had left reservation law enforcement in disarray since 2007.

Tribal police who said Kirts’ agency has been ignoring their calls for assistance had asked the Idaho Legislature to pass a law that would have allowed the tribe to secure the rights to arrest non-tribal members even without the sheriff’s consent. At a hearing last week, however, lawmakers gave the two sides six days to come to an agreement.

“The process said, ‘Come to the table or else we’re going to have a law on the books,’ “ said Helo Hancock, the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s attorney, following the resolution’s announcement.

Kirts told The Associated Press that tribal officers made some concessions, including no longer trying to resolve traffic infractions like speeding tickets for non-tribal members in tribal court.

Those will be handled in state court.

“If we had not come to an agreement, I would have kept pushing against the legislation,” Kirts said.

After Kirts ended the 2007 cross-deputization agreement between the tribe and his agency, tribal officials said they lost the ability to bring drug and violent offenders to justice on the reservation if those committing the crimes weren’t tribal members.

It’s especially important on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation because 8,600 of the 10,000 people who live there don’t belong to the tribe, a remnant of homesteaders settling here at the turn of the century. Without a cooperative agreement, the demographics caused trouble because tribe officers weren’t allowed to arrest non-Indians.

Tribal Police Chief Keith Hutcheson recalled a July 2008 incident in which a Coeur d’Alene tribal police officer found a man shooting a handgun into the ground on the reservation near St. Maries, a town in Benewah County. The officer wanted to arrest him but couldn’t, Hutcheson said, because he wasn’t a Coeur d’Alene tribal member.

“I personally could be sued for kidnap for putting a non-tribal person in a car and driving him 20 miles,” without the agreement, tribal police officer Brad Hampton added.

The tribe said it brought the bill forward as a last resort after years of failed negotiations to win back arrest rights.

The House Judiciary and Rules Committee considered the bill last week but told the conflicting parties to talk before taking final action on the measure.

“I think it’s a good deal, and I think the committee was helpful in bringing the parties together,” said Rep. Jim Clark, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Though thousands of non-tribal members have lived on the reservation for decades, the relationship between the tribe and the Benewah County sheriff deteriorated after the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court concluded the tribe controls the lower third of Coeur d’Alene Lake, including waters within the borders of Benewah County.

That allowed tribal police to issue citations to non-tribal boaters.

Under this new agreement, which still must be signed by tribal and county leaders, people cited for infractions on the lake will get the option of paying in either tribal court or state court.

Benewah County Prosecutor Douglas Payne said giving county and tribal officers equal power means they can start healing old wounds.

“It’s going to take some time to build the trust up,” he said. “Right now it’s not there.”