What can tribal officers do with non-Indian speeders?


The in basket: Kyle Neilsen asks “What type of jurisdiction does the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Police have over non-natives who are stopped for exceeding the speed limit? This hasn’t happened to me, but I have seen it often the past few weeks and was curious.”

While seeking information about Kyle’s concern, I asked about one tribe’s jurisdiction over members of another tribe, and whether Kitsap County cross-commissions tribal officers to give them all the powers of its own deputies.

The out basket: Karl Gilje, director of public safety for the S’Klallam tribe, tells me his officers (the tribe has six) will ticket non-Indians for traffic infractions on the reservation. “We have a responsibility to public safety” to make those stops, he said.

What happens then gets complicated. The ticket must be  handled as a civil infraction, rather than a criminal one, and is not reported to state licensing agencies as a ticket issued by a county, city or state officer would be. 

The tribe could send the fine to a collections agency if the cited driver ignores it, but the tribe hasn’t done that in the past, Karl says.

If the offense is bad enough, the tribe can write it up and submit it to the county prosecutor, asking that office to take it to county court. But anything less than drunken or reckless driving isn’t likely to get that attention and non-tribal officers probably would have gotten involved already. 

So while ducking a speeding fine may be doable for non-Indians and it won’t affect their driving record, speeding can get you pulled over and stopped on the shoulder for 15-20 minutes while the officer checks you for warrants and writes the ticket. That’s probably a significant punishment for those who feel a need to speed.

I also asked Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, and Chief Mike Lasnier of the Suquamish tribe about this. 

Scott relayed a lengthy decision he said was made by Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Jahns shortly before he was named district court judge this year, that drew from a state ruling covering tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

Jeff’s answer said “tribal officers may stop and detain anyone

driving on a public road within a reservation to investigate possible violations of tribal criminal and/or civil law.  Upon determining that the driver is non-tribal, the tribal officer may conduct sobriety tests  in a DUI context (if there is reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired) to determine whether to continue to detain the non-tribal driver for the county sheriff’s office or Washington State Patrol to respond.

“With regard to the Port Gamble – S’Klallam /

Port Madison – Suquamish  (reservations)” Scott said, “I believe that tribal law enforcement

officers of either agency have authority over any Native American registered tribal member who is within their jurisdiction. I base this

on my 10 years working the road primarily in North Kitsap and interacting with the two tribal agencies.”

But I’d better check with the tribes, he added.

The 2008 Legislature enacted RCW 10.92.020, which permits cross-commissioning of tribal officers, but requires that the tribe and local government, in this case Kitsap County and its sheriff’s department, sign what’s called an interlocal agreement extending that authority.

Scott said the new law is under consideration at the county level, and “as of this date, tribal officers in Kitsap County have not been authorized to act as general authority Washington peace officers.”

Chief Mike Lasnier said, “the Suquamish Tribal Police are seeking that authority. Our officers are already certified by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, and we are currently working with the State Office of Financial Management, and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department and Kitsap County Prosecutors Office, in order to ensure that use of state authority by Suquamish officers makes good public safety sense.  

As for members of other tribes, he said his department, “enforces public safety laws on the reservation on behalf of the safety of all residents.  Jurisdiction is a complex and evolving field in federal Indian law, and there are few black and white issues or answers.  Overall, Scott did a pretty good job of trying to sum it up.”

Karl Gilje says his officers are registered with the state training commission in anticipation of one day being cross-commissioned.

8 thoughts on “What can tribal officers do with non-Indian speeders?

  1. I came out of Minnesota and law enforcement agencies there have had dual jurisdiction within and without the reservations for the past ten years. Prior to that, it was similar to the present day situation in WA. It indeed took a number of years before the paperwork was signed, but it’s been a successful partnership.

  2. The article below was copied from the Fargo (ND) Forum today. The dual jurisdiction referred to in the above comment was for the Leech Lake Band of the Anishinabe. Red Lake is a closed reservation (no non-native land owners).

    BEMIDJI, Minn. – The fact that Beltrami County deputies lack jurisdiction on the Red Lake Reservation concerns county commissioners when the tribe opens its new casino.

    Commissioners on Tuesday night approved upgrades to the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department Policy Manual that includes procedures involving the Red Lake Reservation.

    “Pursuits onto the reservation are no longer allowed,” the manual states. “You must terminate the pursuit at the reservation line. If you are pursuing toward Red Lake, notify their dispatcher as soon as is possible and they will send officers, if available.”

    While the policy, dated March 3, basically was written to cover lights-and-sirens pursuit of a vehicle heading onto the reservation, commissioners said the lack of a law enforcement agreement with the Red Lake Nation could pose problems at the band’s new casino now under construction.

    The casino/hotel./water park is located on the reservation at the reservation line along state Highway 89. The parking lot to the complex is south of that, in Beltrami County. It means if an altercation is occurring in the parking lot, Beltrami County deputies would have jurisdiction, not tribal police.

    And, if the altercation moves into the casino. Beltrami County deputies couldn’t do anything but inform Red Lake police.

    Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks, who represents the Red Lake Reservation, said he believes tribal authorities may seek to put the parking lot into trust land, but that procedure could take years as it needs U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approval.

    “That actually might be the best route,” said County Administrator Tony Murphy, “as then they would have full jurisdiction over the whole operation.”

    According to the sheriff’s policy, deputies driving through, or onto, the reservation for routine activities, must call the Beltrami County dispatcher and ask them to notify Red Lake authorities that a deputy is entering the reservation and for what purpose. Likewise, Red Lake PD needs to be notified when the deputy leaves the reservation.

    County sheriff’s investigators doing work that necessitates that they enter the reservation must also notify Red Lake authorities and request a tribal officer accompany them.

    “Do not go onto the reservation to conduct enforcement business without Red Lake Tribal PD’s assistance and authorization,” the policy manual states.

    The policy also calls for Red Lake Tribal Police officers pursuing a vehicle from the reservation into the county to continue that pursuit until a Beltrami County deputy can assume the primary pursuit. Once stopped, if the offender is American Indian, tribal policy may be allowed to take them into custody and take them back to the reservation.

    If the offender has charges pending in Beltrami County, then the county can take custody and not returned to Red Lake authorities until prosecution of those charges is completed.

    “If the offender is not native American and Beltrami County does not have additional charges, the Red Lake officer shall make the arrest (under state law provisions for) ‘arrests by a private person,’” it said. “Once that arrest is made, Beltrami County authorities shall take custody of the offender. Red Lake law enforcement shall submit all reports to the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office and Beltrami County Attorney’s Office for review and prosecution.”

    Also, the manual states that Red Lake police doing investigations off the reservation must contact the Sheriff’s Office, which will assign an investigator to work with them and prepare and execute any needed search warrants.

    If tribal police observe a violation on the reservation by a non-Indian, they can stop the offender but then must submit a report to the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office at which time a sergeant will determine if a citation should be issued, if further investigation is needed, or if it should be submitted to the county attorney for review or charges.

    The current Sheriff’s Office Policy Manual was implemented in 2007, Sheriff Phil Hodapp told commissioners. “These are simple updates to the most recent policy manual — most of it is the same as two years ago,” he said.

  3. Tribal officers on the Lummi reservation boundaries act as ‘observers’ and send their observations of illegal traffic infractions to the county where they’re treated like any other ticket.
    The tribal officer is the witness in a disputed citation court action.

  4. “Scott said the new law is under consideration at the county level, and “as of this date, tribal officers in Kitsap County have not been authorized to act as general authority Washington peace officers.”

    If tribes retain sovereign immunity from lawsuit, they should not be given authority over non-tribal citizens.

  5. I see a smart lawyer stating the agreements between tribes and states are illegal, since only Congress can negotiate treaties…..

  6. Tom is correct when he says that “since only Congress can negotiate treaties.” It is found under the commerce clause of our Constitution. Congress has since passed several laws that grant certain states the power to assume civil and criminal jurisdiction on Indian reservations such as Public Law 280. In the majority of the States, however, states can only assume jurisdiction of their respective Indian reservations by receiving permission from the Tribes. Also under the General Crimes Act, Title 18 U.S.C. 1152, any crime committed by a Non-Indian against an Indian, Indian Tribe, or Tribal property shall be prosecuted in federal court and the Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 13, provides for the borrowing of state law when there is no applicable federal statute. In other words, if the federal government has not passed a statute for a particular crime it may otherwise want to prosecute, it can borrow state law and implement it in federal court. These and other laws, previous Supreme Court rulings and the fact that both the State and Tribal governments are both sovereign entities, which in turn creates the complicated jurisdictional parterns, give both governments power to make negotiations to give each other authority to enforce their laws. Since the state can only prosecute non-Indians and the Tribe can only prosecute Indians in the same territorial jurisdiction and the fact that the federal government declines most cases referred to it by Tribal law enforcement, it is the best possible solution to the jurisdictional issues as far punishing offenders of both State and Tribal law.

  7. “Chief Mike Lasnier said, “the Suquamish Tribal Police are seeking that authority. Our officers are already certified by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, and we are currently working with the State Office of Financial Management, and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department and Kitsap County Prosecutors Office, in order to ensure that use of state authority by Suquamish officers makes good public safety sense.”

    Travis, can you update your readers on this? Has Kitsap County entered an Interlocal Agreement with either the Suquamish or Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe to allow tribal officers to act as “general authority Washington peace officers”? If so, can you post copies of the agreements? Thank you.

    Read more: http://pugetsoundblogs.com/roadwarrior/2009/07/10/what-can-tribal-officers-do-with-non-indian-speeders/#ixzz12S3kroVJ

  8. I just got pulled over yesterday on tribal (Federally Recognized) land. I was on tribal land driving when he was behind me, then there is a break in the land for 1 mile. Then back on tribal land, i was pulled over and given two tickets at my sister in laws house. He was a state trooper, i was told they can not do anything because we have tribal police and only them and sheriffs have any rights. As far as i heard he was supposed to call tribal to have there and he did not. Should i fight the tickets?

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