Chukchansi election; more people disenrolled

No arrests for February stabbing and violence; March trespassing charges prosecuted

Carmen GeorgeDecember 5, 2012 

A tribal council election Dec. 1 at the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians in Coarsegold voted in two new members -- Charles "Charlie" Sargosa and Carl "Buzz" Bushman -- and re-elected Nancy Ayala, who's been serving as the tribe's chairperson since this fall.

The new election comes about a month after more disenrollments at the rancheria -- 43 tribal members ousted from a Chukchansi allotment near Hensley Lake. The disenrollments were made even though the tribe's constitution protects the enrollment of individuals from the Chukchansi allotments -- awarded by the government in the late 1800s through the early 1900s.

A phrase in the constitution about needing a "special relationship" to remain in the tribe is being manipulated, putting all Chukchansi people in jeopardy of disenrollment, many tribal members have said.

A new election ordinance was also created in September by tribal council.

The ordinance prohibited at least two candidates from running in the Dec. 1 election, and goes against Chukchansi's constitution that outlines criteria needed to be a candidate, said Dora Jones, who was elected last year as the tribe's new vice chair but was never allowed to be seated -- along with the three other winners of that election -- who are all opposed to recent Chukchansi disenrollments.

The new Chukchansi election ordinance increased the minimum candidate age to 25 -- what is 18 in their constitution -- and requires all candidates to have attended eight tribal council meetings throughout the previous election year. The Chukchansi constitution only requires eight meetings for those running for a tribal council office, not for those running for a "member at large" position.

Other new election ordinance requirements are more vague, including phrases like needing to be in "good standing" with the tribe to run for office, and demonstrating "active involvement in the affairs of the tribe."

The new Chukchansi tribal council will include the newly-elected Sargosa and Bushman, re-elected Ayala; Reggie Lewis, who was not up for re-election this year; Karen Wynn and Tracey Brechbuehl, who were appointed in May to fill the council seats of Jones and Morris Reid, who were suspended from council shortly after winning last year's election; and Chance Alberta, who lost last year's election and the subsequent March election for the seat of Harold Hammond's seat (who was also not allowed to be seated after winning last year's election). Alberta now fills the seventh seat, won by Dixie Jackson last year, who was also not allowed to be seated on council by others in power.

No charges for February violence -- casino trespassing in March now prosecuted

Many Chukchansi people have expressed frustration that while no arrests have been made regarding a stabbing and other acts of violence that occurred outside the tribal offices in February, a casino trespassing charge is now being prosecuted by the district attorney's office.

The trespassing charge is against Chukchansi member Jed Davis, who was arrested March 10 in the parking garage of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino while waiting to be handed a debarment letter, stating he could not be on the premises to vote or attend a General Council meeting because he was involved in a February occupation of the tribal offices -- an attempt by many Chukchansi to seat four newly-elected leaders against recent tribal disenrollments, after two months of attempts to get the Bureau of Indian Affairs involved had failed.

While waiting in line to get into the March 10 General Council meeting, held in the casino parking garage, Davis said he was told to leave by security guards. He told the guards he had not received paperwork stating he could not be on casino property, what many had already been handed that day, and he asked to his debarment letter. Davis said Ted Atkins, director of security, told him he would go get his letter.

While waiting for the letter, Davis said three security guards jumped on him when Atkins was within sight, returning with his letter.

"The whole time, when all three of those guys hung on me, I put my hands on my chest and basically just carried them on my back ... I played the part the way I was supposed to (by not acting aggressively)," Davis said. "When a fourth guy came up and applied a rear naked choke hold -- where they come behind you and get you with their arm and start choking -- there was nothing I could do and I just turned and fell on the floor. Then they proceeded to slam my face against the ground and arrest me -- that was before I received the letter ...

"The reason why they didn't want me there (at the General Council meeting) is because I was armed with a paper that recognized the old council (elected Dec. 3, 2011, but not seated), for people to sign. That's why I was escorted out of there. I was going to try and get signatures and speak on behalf of the other council. Instead, they cuffed me and turned me over to the sheriff right there ..."

District Attorney Michael Keitz said his office had enough evidence to go forward with a trespassing prosecution for Davis' case, but that his office has not received anything from the sheriff's office to prosecute regarding violence outside the tribal offices in February. Tribal members continued to call 911 as deputies were outside an occupied tribal office in February, with members from a faction outside the building spraying bear mace through windows and reportedly throwing in a smoldering log and bricks, along with cutting the building's electricity and water.

The next day, a melee broke out in front of the tribal offices between the two factions, resulting in a stabbing and several injuries.

"As far as the incidents in February -- nobody has come forward with any suspects," said Erica Stuart, spokesperson for the sheriff's office. "We've talked to both sides and the word 'they (did it)' is routinely brought up ... until they are willing to come forward with evidence, we can't prosecute 'they,' so the case therefore remains open."

Jones said two days after the violence erupted, she made an official report with the sheriff's office giving names of individuals, along with other Chukchansi people who have also filed reports.

"This is public law 280 state, the sheriff's office has a obligation to protect us in California, but they act like we are a totally foreign country," Jones said. "I've never received a call back to do a follow-up on the report I filed with the sheriff's office."

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