By Ken Davison
Narragansett tribal members Matthew Thomas, Randy Noka and Hiawatha Brown were convicted yesterday on misdemeanor charges relating to the 2003 raid on their Charleston, R.I., tribal smoke shop while charges were dropped against four other tribal members.
After four hours of jury deliberations, Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas was left convicted of simple assault, Randy Noka of disorderly conduct and Hiawatha Brown for both disorderly conduct and simple assault. Lawyers say it is unlikely any of the men will face jail time although the simple assault charge carries a maximum sentence of one year.
The issue of cigarrette taxes arose in Connecticut in 1993 when self-proclaimed Paugussett war chief Moon Face Bear (a.k.a. Kenneth Piper) led a 13-week armed stand-off against state troopers on their Colchester reservation. Bear subsequently died of leukemia during the trial, leaving the tax collection issue unresolved. Moon Face was charged with selling 20,000 unstamped cigarrettes and interfering with the police.
In opposition to the tribe's claims, Connecticut State's Attorney C. Robert Satti argued that "where the legislature intends a tax exemption for Indians it specifically gives one as in the case of reservation property and automobiles." Moon Face argued that selling tax-free cigarrettes was a sovereign right to be claimed by Indians and not a right granted by outsiders. Satti also maintained that Moon Face Bear was acting as an individual of that state-recognized tribe.
In New York, cigarettes are sold tax-free on Indian reservations and are estimated to account for a third of all cigarette sales in that state.
In the Narragansett case, the charges were a result of a Rhode Island state police raid on their smoke shop because the tribe was selling cigarettes without collecting state taxes. A federal appeals court ruled the tobacco sales were illegal and police later sent 51 officers including a SWAT team to the shop. A search warrant was issued but a police sergeant said he didn't have time to show it during the raid.
One of the defendants, Randy Noka, is an employee at the Mohegan Sun.
Motions for a new trial will be heard on April 28 and a sentencing decision is expected at a later date.
See video (be patient, a 15-second commercial will play before the 3-minute video of the raid begins) :
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