Judge Won’t Delay Trial For Tribal Arguments Case Raises Questions About Jurisdiction On The Colville Indian Reservation
An Okanogan County judge refused Friday to delay a trial so a tribal attorney could present arguments that Omak police improperly arrested the defendant on the Colville Indian Reservation.
Tribal member Thomas Waters, 27, is accused of leading police on a 45-mile high-speed chase from Omak to his home in Nespelem on the reservation. He also faces trial Monday on a previously unresolved charge that he eluded Omak police in a similar chase last year.
The case raises politically sensitive questions about whether outside agencies should have jurisdiction on the reservation. It mirrors arguments by non-Indian residents of the reservation that the tribal government should have no control over them.
Tribal council members are considering rescinding the tribal police commissions they have extended to officers in Omak and other jurisdictions that overlap the reservation. That could cause surrounding police agencies to cancel their deputation of tribal officers.
Tribal council members were to discuss the issue Friday, but failed to muster a quorum. No action can be taken until the council’s May 1 meeting.
Chairman Joe Pakootas wasn’t available for comment.
Tribal Police Lt. Mike Carter said he hopes the dispute doesn’t damage cooperation among tribal police and neighboring police agencies. He said Omak police “went by the book” in the Waters case, and tribal officers participated in the pursuit and arrest.
The dispute apparently has more to do with relationships than legal authority. Jurisdiction is determined by the location of a crime, and police officers are empowered to pursue suspects wherever they go in the United States - with or without cross-deputation.
What’s at stake is the ability of pursuing officers to radio ahead for assistance in a chase or to work together in an investigation that crosses political boundaries.
“We want to be able to share information,” Carter said, adding that tribal police have an “excellent working relationship” with Omak police and the sheriff’s departments in Okanogan and Ferry counties.
That cooperation already has been tested on several occasions by political pressure from Indians and non-Indians alike.
Shortly after he took office in 1995, Ferry County Sheriff Pete Warner rescinded his deputation of tribal officers over a case similar to this one.
Warner said he reacted to pressure from non-Indian residents of the portion of Ferry County that is within the Colville Reservation. Reservation resident Dan Hoover, a non-Indian who opposes tribal land-use controls, had just led tribal officers on a second long-distance car chase.
Warner quickly reversed his decision. He said he found tribal officers had jurisdiction with or without his blessing.
“We need the assistance of the tribe to help us cover the area,” Warner said at the time.
In the Waters case, public records indicate he fled Feb. 20 when Omak police attempted to stop him for speeding. The chase reached speeds in excess of 100 mph and ended in a residential area at Nespelem when Waters’ car shot over a snow bank and briefly was airborne, police said.
He was charged with attempting to elude police, resisting arrest, drunken driving and first-degree driving with a suspended or revoked license. He also was arrested on a 1996 warrant charging him with eluding Omak police in a similar chase last June.
Okanogan County Superior Court Jack Burchard ruled Friday that jurisdictional arguments weren’t sufficient to delay Waters’ trial. He ordered jury selection to begin Monday morning.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = John Craig Staff writer Bill Stevenson of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune contributed to this report.