TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — A Washington state Native American tribe is suing several Mississippi municipalities over allegations that their law enforcement officials illegally invaded tribal lands during an FBI-led raid earlier this year.
The target of the Feb. 16 search was property that belongs to King Mountain Tobacco, which was under federal investigation in a black-market cigarette conspiracy. The city of Tupelo and Marshall County in Mississippi are among targets in the lawsuit.
The Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakama Nation claim police barged onto tribal land without prior notice and invaded their peace.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington, seeks a court order compelling the defendants to notify the tribe of any entry onto reservation lands.
News of the lawsuit came Friday in a city of Tupelo memo obtained by the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. In it, the city's attorney, John Hill, asked City Clerk Glenda Muse to put on the City Council's July 19 agenda a proposal to hire a Washington State law firm to represent Tupelo.
In Hill's memo, he explains that a Tupelo police officer has been assisting federal authorities with the cigarette investigation and participated "in an action" on the Yakama reservation in Washington. Other Mississippi entities are named for similar reasons.
The tribe says the raid, which it calls an invasion, was a violation of the Yakama Treaty of 1855 and other federal laws.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in a memo written June 22 that the warrant to search the eastern Washington state reservation "was to seek evidence of a crime, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed" or used in the commission of a crime.
In this case, the allegations claim King Mountain Tobacco, housed on the Yakama reservation, engaged in efforts to avoid federal and state taxes on their cigarette sales.
Documents obtained by the Daily Journal earlier this year claim King Mountain Tobacco officials repeatedly met with Lee County, Miss., cigarette warehousers and illegally shipped their products through Mississippi to avoid the taxes.
No criminal charges have been made public against any King Mountain Tobacco officials, although the federal documents claim they have been shown substantial evidence against them.
Recently the U.S. Attorney's Office in North Mississippi filed court papers to seize nearly $1 million and some 22 vintage vehicles reportedly purchased with the proceeds of King Mountain's alleged illegal activity.
Tupelo wholesaler Jerry Burke has gone to prison for his parts in the conspiracy, and others have been sentenced or await sentencing for their guilty pleas.