Saturday, July 5, 2008

Three Narragansett Indians Sentenced In Smoke Shop Case

Feather News

Narragansett Indian Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas and two other Narrangansett tribal members will not serve jail time in their recent sentencing for their roles in a 2003 tribal smoke shop raid by state police.

Eight Narragansett Indians were at first arrested for the scuffle after the Rhode Island state police raided the Charlestown, R.I. shop for not collecting state taxes on sold cigarettes. Charges were dropped against four of the eight Narragansett Indians in April and the other three were charged with misdemeanors.

In the sentencing, Hiawatha Brown received a one-year suspended sentence and probation and was ordered to take anger management counseling. Chief Sachem Thomas was ordered to perform 150 hours of community service by educating school chidren about the Tribe and Randy Noka was told to perform 25 hours of community service.

So far, Hiawatha Brown has appealed his conviction on misdemeanor disorderly conduct and simple assault.

John Brown, the son of the Tribe's Medicine Man, told Feather News' contributing editor Bill Bauer in April that the state knew about the smoke-shop search warrant for two days before the 2003 raid but failed to show it to the Tribe before or during the raid. Instead of holding government-to-government discussions with the Tribe, the state sent about 50 police officers to the smoke shop. Brown is the Narragansett Tribe's Historic Preservation Officer.

In a separate civil suit, a federal appeals court judge last week told a Narragansett tribal member and a state trooper to reach a settlement over an injury that resulted in the raid. Three years earlier, a jury awarded the tribal member $301,000 for his broken ankle. In that case, the jury agreed that the trooper violated the tribal members rights by twisting his ankle until it broke but a U.S. District Court judge overturned that verdict. Judge Ernest Torres found that the state trooper was protected by a qualified immunity which shields officers from liability when they act reasonably in performing their job.

The state of Connecticut also asserts that Indian tribes cannot sell cigarettes without collecting state taxes while the state of New York allows tribes to sell cigarettes tax-free on Indian reservations. Cigarettes sold on Indian reservations in New York are estimated to account for one third of all cigarettes sold in that state.