Pressure Grows on State Senator Who Fled Police

By Beacon Staff

Pressure is mounting on Blackfeet Tribal Councilman and State Senator Shannon Augare to come forward and address the allegations of May 26, when he fled a Glacier County Sheriff’s deputy in Cut Bank. According to a press release, the officer smelled alcohol in the vehicle before Augare drove off.

Now, people both on and off the Blackfeet Reservation want to know what happened that night and some tribal members say Augare should resign. According to the Associated Press, tribal officials are looking into the incident.

But Mothers Against Drunk Driving program coordinator Kelsey Dennison said it would be hard to bring charges against the councilman and senator because a sobriety test was not administered.

“I hope that if the allegations are true that he is held accountable, but I think it will be hard to prove,” Dennison said.

On May 26, at approximately 11:45 p.m., Glacier County Sheriff’s deputies stopped Augare as he drove west on U.S. Highway 2 near Cut Bank, after someone reported an erratic driver. According to a press release, the deputy smelled “an overwhelming odor of an alcoholic beverage” in the vehicle. Augare argued that the county deputy did not have jurisdiction on the Blackfeet Reservation. When the deputy tried to take the keys from Augare, the state senator drove off. Not wanting to provoke a dangerous car chase, the Sheriff’s officer did not follow Augare but notified tribal police. According to the press release, tribal law enforcement made contact with Augare a short time later.

Augare has not made a public statement since the incident and did not return phone calls from the Beacon last week.

Dennision said MADD has zero tolerance for drunk driving, regardless of jurisdiction. She called on Augare to install an ignition interlock device on his vehicle, which requires a person to take a Breathalyzer test before starting a car.

“We don’t have evidence or proof, so the next best thing is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “It’s frustrating because he represents the state and the people. We elect our officials in hopes that they keep the best interests of Montanans first and so this incident is certainly disappointing.”

Nathan DeRoche, spokesperson for Blackfeet Against Corruption, agreed the tribe’s representatives should be held to a higher standard. DeRoche has been an outspoken critic of the current tribal council and Augare.

Last year, DeRoche led a series of protests against the tribal government, after the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council dismissed five elected councilors and suspended, fired or expelled countless other employees.

“Shannon Augare’s head has gotten so big that he thought he was untouchable, but we’re going to bring him down,” DeRoche said. “People are finally seeing what he’s all about, because he has no morals.”

DeRoche said there have been a handful of protests in Browning since Augare fled police. Protesters have also been circulating two petitions throughout the reservation demanding that Augare step down from his elected offices.

It’s unclear how the allegations will affect Augare’s political future. The Browning Democrat was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 and then the Senate in 2010, the same year he joined the tribal council. In the Senate he serves on the Law and Justice and State-Tribal Relations committees. Augare made news during the 2013 legislative session when he disappeared for a day in order to set up a “Call of the Senate” procedure. Republicans argued that he was trying to stop business on a critical deadline day.

Floyd “Bob” Gervais was head of the Glacier County Democrats until last week. During a committee meeting last week, the local party board said it’s focused on electing Democrats and is not interested in people’s personal matters. But Gervais said the allegations could be troublesome for Augare.

“If the investigation does not come out in his favor, then I think his political career is over, in my opinion,” Gervais said.