County Can’t Arrest Tribal Members on Reservation

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A state senator and Blackfeet leader who fled a traffic stop appears to have been right when he told a Glacier County sheriff’s deputy the officer had no jurisdiction to arrest him.

County law-enforcement officers have no jurisdiction over enrolled tribal members or their descendants within the exterior boundaries of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier County attorney Carolyn Berkram said Friday.

Berkram declined to discuss specifics in the case of Blackfeet tribal councilman and state Sen. Shannon Augare, whom Glacier County authorities said appeared to be drunk before he fled the Sunday night traffic stop when an officer attempted to take his keys.

But she noted a 2001 Montana Supreme Court ruling in a case dealing with the arrest of a tribal member who led Cut Bank police on a chase from the city, which lies just east of the reservation’s boundary, onto tribal land.

The Supreme Court in its City of Cut Bank vs. Daniel Bird decision said only a law enforcement officer who observes a tribal member committing an offense within the officer’s jurisdiction can pursue and arrest that member on the reservation if the suspect flees there. Even then, the arresting officer must follow Blackfeet tribal code procedure to extradite a suspect from the reservation, which includes first bringing the suspect to tribal court.

In Augare’s case, the Glacier County deputy pulled over the Browning Democrat on U.S. Highway 2 nine miles west of Cut Bank and within the reservation’s boundaries. The deputy identified Augare as a tribal councilman and observed that he appeared to be impaired and an “overwhelming odor” of alcohol came from the vehicle, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Augare then allegedly said the deputy had no jurisdiction and he was going to leave. The deputy told him not to leave and tried to take his keys, but Augare drove off, the sheriff’s office said.

The deputy did not pursue Augare, but contacted the tribe’s law enforcement office. The sheriff’s office has turned over the case to the tribe.

The Blackfeet reservation is one of six American Indian reservations within Montana. Each is considered a sovereign nation ruled by its own tribal government, which sometimes complicates jurisdictional authority between tribes, state and federal governments.

The Blackfeet tribe’s chief prosecutor has said a decision has not been made on whether to charge Augare with a crime, and he is awaiting the conclusion of a tribal police investigation.

Prosecutor Carl Pepion has denied comment on the jurisdictional issue, saying that is an issue that may come up at trial, if the case proceeds that far.

Augare did not return a call for comment Friday.

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