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Tribe: Benewah reneges on deal

by Tom Hasslinger
| April 22, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - The deal could be off.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe said Wednesday that Benewah County is going back on its word regarding the cross deputization agreement the two sides and the Idaho Sheriffs Association reached during this year's legislative session.

Because of the breach, the Tribe said it will likely ask legislators to pass a cross deputization law next year.

"I am extremely disappointed with this new document in front of me," said Chief Allan, Coeur d'Alene Tribe chairman in a press release. "It is not what we agreed to."

Back in March, the two sides agreed to the cross-deputization agreement before the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee. Benewah County Commissioner Jack Buell, Benewah County Sheriff Robert Kirts and prosecuting attorney Doug Payne participated in the negotiations, and the Tribal Council signed the document shortly after the agreement.

But earlier this week county officials sent the Tribe a signed copy of a new version of the agreement that contained around 50 changes to the original document - a move the Tribe said is reviving "disagreements over key provisions that had already been settled."

County officials, meanwhile, said a majority of the changes were typographical corrections, with only two potential changes that could alter the meaning of the document.

Those alterations would spell out that Tribal officers can't cite any non-Tribal members for civil infractions into Tribal court - other than misdemeanor boating infractions - while another wouldn't allow the parties to claim immunity in liability suits, Payne said.

"You simply can't cite non-Indians into tribal court period," Payne said, adding the language in the original draft left room for non-Indians other than boaters to be cited into Tribal court. "This has been the rub all along."

The agreement was to give all tribal police officers the authority to arrest or cite non-tribal members violating state law on reservations and send them to state court. It also allowed Tribal officers to cite violators of the Safe Boating Act on the water to choose whether their citation would go to Tribal or state court.

But Payne said he used the document the Tribe had signed and turned over to him as a guide as the county drafted its own language that specified no law breakers other than the boating violators could be sent to Tribal court.

Payne called it a good agreement that only needed a few changes, adding that the delay in presenting the draft to the Tribe was because of the diligent work that went into reviewing it.

But changing the document violates the terms of the agreement, the Tribe said, and Jim Clark, House Rules and Judiciary Committee Chairman, called the changes a disappointment.

"We believed all that was needed was for the necessary parties to sign the agreement," he said, adding that the agreement was never intended to be a guide. "It was a done deal. And it came back changed. Radically changed."

Eric Van Orden, the Tribe's legal counsel, said he was unaware the county was crafting such changes to the document over the six weeks the county worked on it.

"It's going back on what we already agreed upon," he said, adding the changes were more than typographical clarifications that compromised jurisdiction, definitions of peace officers, law enforcement on the lake, waivers of immunity and liability issues that were thoroughly negotiated and agreed upon in March. "That's why the Tribe is so upset."

Following the original agreement, the Tribe asked a House committee to hold its proposed legislation that would have forced the county's hand it if wouldn't reach an agreement - a statewide measure aimed at closing a loophole in criminal law enforcement on Indian reservations - and Allan called the deal a "new chapter" with Benewah County.

Now, the issue might return to Boise next year.

"We are hoping the county will honor the commitment it made in front of the Idaho Legislature," Allan said. "If it is their decision to refuse to honor the agreement, as reached during serious negotiations during the legislative session, it is clear that further negotiations with Benewah County officials, either now or in the future, would be a waste of time and resources."

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