BROWNING – The embattled Blackfeet tribal councilor and state senator who pleaded guilty to charges of drunk driving in a tribal court on Oct. 23 will ask a judge to drop similar charges in federal court.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Shannon Augare spoke publicly for the first time in five months. At a press conference in Browning, Augare apologized for driving drunk and fleeing a police officer on the evening of May 26, belittled the media for its coverage of the incident and said that it was time to move on.
“I own this matter completely,” Augare said. “This was my sole responsibility and I think it’s important to acknowledge my behavior and apologize to the entire law enforcement community, to my colleagues on the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and the Montana Senate, to my constituents and, most importantly, my family. I let quite a few people down, but I own this, this was entirely my fault and I apologize.”
In May, Augare was pulled over by a Glacier County sheriff’s deputy near Cut Bank. According to the officer, Augare was driving recklessly and smelled of alcohol. Augare told the officer that he didn’t have jurisdiction and drove off.
This summer, Augare was charged with misdemeanor counts of drunken driving, reckless driving and obstruction of a peace officer. But Augare and his legal team fought the charges, saying the U.S. government could not prosecute a Blackfeet member because it intruded on tribal sovereignty.
“When I was charged, my first thought was ‘I’m an elected official and a lot of people will be paying attention to this,’” Augare said. “I realized that I needed to protect the sovereignty rights of this nation and so my legal team and I decided to bring sovereignty up in court.”
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong later rebuffed Augare’s request to drop the case because the incident occurred on the reservation. Federal prosecutors are pursuing the case under the Assimilative Crimes Act, which allows them to apply state laws to offenses committed in federal enclaves. A trial has been set for Nov. 7 in Great Falls.
But in a surprising twist, Augare was charged and pleaded guilty in tribal court on Oct. 23 to threatening a public official, driving while under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving. Augare faced a fine of $1,150 and up to 37 days in jail. Chief Judge Allie Edwards rolled back that punishment, instead handing Augare a 37-day suspended sentence. Augare will also submit to a chemical dependency evaluation and pay either $400 to the court or $200 worth of toys for the tribe’s Toys For Tots fundraiser in December.
Although Augare’s attorney will ask that the federal charges be dropped, he says that he will respect the federal court’s final decision, whatever it may be.
Augare was also critical of how the media handled the matter, saying he was treated unfairly in news reports. He said the reason he had not talked to the press, including the Beacon, since May was because “I don’t trust the media.”
“You have disparaged my reputation, people think I’m a mad man,” he said. “I say shame on the media and I encourage you to be better disciplined in finding the facts and that you raise yourselves to a better level of standards and practices, if not for moral reasons than for professional reasons.”
When asked what the media had gotten wrong about the night of May 26, Augare’s answer was short.
“I was stopped for a traffic violation and I pled guilty to a traffic violation in tribal court,” he said.
Augare was joined at the press conference by tribal councilmen Leonard Guardipee and Chief Earl Old Person. The three councilors, along with Roger “Sassy” Running Crane, have been pitted against Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. and another group of councilors after the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council splintered earlier this month over a series of illegal suspensions. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has since offered to mediate a solution between the two groups but on Oct. 25 the tribal government shutdown. Both sides have yet to meet and it is unknown when the tribal government will reopen and when employees will be paid.
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