Federal Court Recommends Dismissal of Homeless Claims

Investigation concluded that four Fort Peck Indian Reservation tribal law enforcement officers illegally arrested 29 people

By Associated Press

WOLF POINT — A federal court is recommending dismissal of a civil complaint filed on behalf of more than two dozen homeless residents of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation who were jailed to prevent them from panhandling during a rodeo weekend in Wolf Point in 2013.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Johnston granted attorney Daniel Flaherty’s motion to withdraw on Sept. 19 after he reported being unable to contact lead plaintiff Reba Demarrais.

Johnston also recommended that the case be dismissed, in part because Demarrais didn’t provide the court with the information needed to serve the complaint on the defendants, which included the then-mayor, chief of police, tribal chairman, members of the tribal council and several law enforcement officers.

A 2014 Bureau of Indian Affairs investigation concluded that four tribal law enforcement officers illegally arrested and detained 29 people in violation of their civil and Constitutional rights. They reported being confined to fenced basketball courts outside, without shelter from the heat and a later thunderstorm. The detainees did not have adequate food, water, toilet facilities or medical care, according to a complaint initially filed by Mary Cleland, a court advocate.

Cleland filed the complaint after a Bureau of Indian Affairs worker told her the tribe had been admonished not to do it again, but that the agency did not have the authority to adjudicate the case against the sovereign tribe, Great Falls Tribunereported. The court appointed an attorney to help with the case, but he reported being unable to contact the plaintiffs to meet court deadlines.

Cleland said she intends to file a similar complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Tribune reported.

“When the blacks had their civil rights violated in Selma, Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepped in a represented those people,” Cleland said. “Why isn’t the U.S. Attorney’s Office representing this? They have the authority. This involves federally funded programs. The U.S. government pays for our courts, our jails and our offices.”

Few of the people named in the Bureau of Indian Affairs investigation continue to work for the tribes, the Tribune reported. Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure faces re-election on Oct. 28. Former police captain Michael Headdress was elected associate tribal judge in 2015.

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