A federal court judge has ordered Roosevelt city to dismiss all misdemeanor cases pending in 8th District Court against enrolled Ute Tribe members.
Attorneys for the Ute Tribe had asked the court to transfer the cases to Ute Tribal Court for prosecution. They also sought a $5,000- a-day fine against the city on alleged contempt of court charges.U.S. District Court Judge Bruce S. Jenkins stopped short of finding Roosevelt city and City Attorney Clark Allred in contempt of court. He said he felt their decision to continue cases against tribal members pending a ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on the issue of tribal jurisdiction was more of a misunderstanding than a conscious effort to violate his April 2 temporary ruling.
Roosevelt had been prosecuting tribal members accused of misdemeanor offenses in Roosevelt since 1994. But following Jenkins' April 2 temporary ruling - which among other things prohibited the city from exercising criminal jurisdiction over tribal members in misdemeanor cases - law enforcement officers simply cited and released tribal members arrested for misdemeanors. Jenkins said even that action runs contrary to his order.
And Jenkins told both the tribe and the city on Friday their "understanding" that the city had authority to prosecute tribal members on misdemeanors following his 1994 stipulation was "misunderstood."
"There may be a misunderstanding here and I appreciate that, but the order is clear," Jenkins stated. "We need to say hey we've got misdemeanors filed against Indians out there, let's get them into tribal court where they belong."
But instead of remanding the cases into tribal court, Jenkins ordered each one dismissed. He gave no reason behind his decision not to send the cases into tribal court for prosecution.
More than 20 misdemeanor cases are pending in 8th District Court against enrolled Ute Tribe members. Each one was filed before Jenkins's April 2 ruling. The cases consist mainly of alcohol-related traffic violations and drug charges.
Jenkins dismissed concerns and frustration among law enforcement officers and attorneys that his ruling has created a jurisdictional void when it comes to prosecuting tribal members accused of crimes within the Roosevelt City limits.
"The idea that there is a vacuum is absolutely incorrect," he replied when questioned by attorney Gayle McKeachnie, who was representing Roosevelt city. "You have city ordinances and tribal ordinances, and one or the other is going to apply. It isn't a no-man's land. It's going to be covered by one sovereign or another." Jenkins said he felt the matter could be solved by having city police and Bureau of Indian Affairs officers "ride together" to patrol Roosevelt.
Jenkins has sent his April 2 ruling on to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for resolution.