The U.S. Attorney General's Office has agreed to take another look at some of the "lesser" types of violent crimes committed on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation, which they had previously declined to prosecute.
At issue are misdemeanor crimes allegedly committed by non-Utes on undisputed reservation lands.The criminal behavior falls under federal jurisdiction because as non-Utes the defendants are not subject to prosecution in tribal court. Likewise, because the crime occurred on the reservation, the suspects do not fall under state jurisdiction either.
BIA Police Capt. Ed Reynolds says such cases have been frustrating for his officers and leave victims feeling betrayed. If the culprits aren't tribal members and the U.S. Attorney's Office declines to prosecute, Brown says the suspects are likely to get the message they can get away with almost anything.
Most recently, Reynolds said the secretary to the BIA superintendent was assaulted in her office by an American Indian who was not an enrolled tribal member. Tribal court declined to prosecute because they lacked jurisdiction. Uintah County declined for the same reason. The U.S. Attorney's Office turned down the case as well, according to Reynolds, because the victim "didn't suffer serious bodily injuries."
Reynolds surmised that had a Roosevelt City employee been attacked in the same manner while at work, police would have been able to pursue the matter in court. But when the federal government - the only agency with the jurisdictional authority in such cases - doesn't step into the fray, many minor acts of violence on the reservation committed by non-tribal members, American Indians and whites are going unaddressed.
Among the cases that Reynolds will resubmit to the U.S. Attorney's Office for further consideration is a threat made to the life of a BIA officer by a man brandishing a sword. He'd also like to resubmit an incident involving a Ute woman who was assaulted by two white males at a convenience store on tribal land.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Schwendiman says he realizes the BIA Police on the reservation are frustrated in their efforts to see non-enrolled perpetrators prosecuted, but he notes that intense efforts have been under way for the past several months to remedy the situation.
In May his office hired former FBI agent and Bronx District Attorney Felice Vitti, whose primary assignment is to prosecute cases on the reservation. Vitti has spent a great deal of time on the reservation meeting people and getting to know the area, Schwendiman stated.
Obviously, he says the most serious criminal offenses on the reservation are vehemently prosecuted, but the U.S. Attorney's Office is also committed to prosecuting misdemeanors when resources and evidence allow.
"The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction on reservation land on felonies and lesser offenses too," he stated. "But there are times when we will decline, that also has to do with the evidence, and the merits of the crime. We also do that with felonies.
"We have to consider them very carefully, that's one reason you have prosecutors to decide if the evidence is there. We will do those misdemeanors we feel need to be done to preserve order out there," said Schwendiman.
He has asked Reynolds for a complete list of the misdemeanors that his office originally declined to prosecute in order "to take a second look" at the cases.