Picayune Racnheria of Chukchansi Indians claiming to be in control of the tribe boiled over to the Chukchansi Gold Casino after several armed gunman entered the casino confronting and detaining security guards, resulting in the closing of the facility.
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said the entrance to Lucky Lane was closed while order was restored.Anderson says he personally arrived at the casino around 7 p.m. to help maintain the peace and says several members of the Lewis faction were set free after being handcuffed and detained by members of the McDonald faction security force.
No arrests were made but Anderson says he is requesting surveillance camera footage and says if anything unlawful took place legal action would be taken.
Since the tribe is a sovereign nation Anderson says his jurisdiction remains limited and the two rival factions continue to accuse the other of being a “rogue” group. Anderson believes that a distinction between who should be in charge would be of great help to the sheriff department.
“We have no power except to enforce California criminal penal code statues,” Anderson said. “We cannot tell either side what to do ... we are just trying to maintain the peace. There has to be a clear violation of criminal code before we can step in and do anything. If someone would come out and let us know who was actually was in charge it would make things a lot easier.”
“Last night about six o'clock they (McDonald faction) sent their armed police department in and took over the casino. When I arrived around 7 p.m. a few of the Reggie Lewis faction were handcuffed in a room and we released them.”It was also reported that deputies disarmed the men who raided the casino.
Anderson has reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Attorney General’s office for assistance in deciding the future of the casino and to help clarify his role in the current dispute.
According to David Leibowitz, spokesman for the Tex McDonald tribal faction — one of two feuding tribal councils — roughly 15-20 armed guards, including newly hired police chief John Oliviera, entered the casino in an attempt to secure financial papers from the rival Reggie Lewis faction who had established headquarters on the 11th floor of the casino back in August.
The incident came just days after Jonodov Chaudhur, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, told the tribe the facility will be shut-down if audits dating back to 2012 were not produced by Oct. 27.
Sources say during Thursday’s dispute, members of the McDonald faction confiscated several boxes of documents from the casino floor.
It is unclear what exactly was in those boxes but Leibowitz says the group was attempting to find documents necessary to complete the 2012 and 2013 audits. Leibowitz claims the Lewis faction is holding the documents needed to complete the audit while protecting those guilty of financial wrong doings.
“We need to complete the audits that are due for the NIGC or the feds are going to come and shut us down and the documents that are necessary to complete those audits are being held hostage by the Lewis group,” Leibowitz said. “There are 1,100 jobs and tens of millions of dollars in revenue at stake. If they cannot pay the bills there are tribal food services, housing services and people’s lives at stake here.”
Following the evacuation the casino was temporarily closed to all visitors and remains closed until further notice. Customers who had purchased a room at the casino hotel were given the option to return to their rooms for the night or to retrieve their luggage and leave.
Those who choose to stay at the hotel for the remainder of the evening did so without necessities such as drinking water, food to eat and warm water for bathing.
“We were stuck there all night,” said 31-year-old Ray Amaya of San Jose. “They told us we can leave but we can’t come back. We were drinking so we didn't want to drive. We had no food or water.”
Several patrons, staying at the casino, said the confusion started when a fire alarm was pulled and customers were asked to vacate the premises. In some cases customers were furious because they forced to leave money on card tables and in slot machines.
Arthur Demoorijan, a 74 year-old Fresno resident, was told to leave the casino floor with money and vouchers he was unable to claim. After being allowed to return only to his hotel room Demoorijan, who arrived on a bus, says he was left stranded after he awoke in the morning to find out there were no more buses coming to and from he casino.Claims of tribal member and security guards being tasered were substantiated by several member of each council who both claimed to have members assaulted by the rival faction.
Amaya, who was with his wife celebrating their 10th anniversary when mayhem erupted, said the nerve-racking situation has caused him to rethink whether he will return to the casino.
“It was kind of intimidating the way they were going about it ... when you go to a place like that you don’t expect to see that many cops,” Amaya said. “It was very intimidating. At one point my wife was scared to go up stairs to our room because we didn't know what was going on. We were in limbo. I am not sure if we will be coming back. Not having any food or water was really frustrating.”
Richard Peterson, 58, of Rancho Cucamonga, says the situation was highly volital and nerve racking.
“We were shocked that they were not giving more information out about what was taking place,” Peterson said. “We herd there was a fire, we heard there was a fight that broke out, there was nobody that could tell us what was really gong on. It was kind of disheartening. We waited until nine o’clock until we were told to leave and we went out and found another hotel last night. No gambling, no dinner, money sent in advance for our room, and no one saying that we will get any money back.”
Dozens of sheriffs were on scene throughout the night as well as half a dozen CHP officers for traffic control. Lucky Lane, leading up to the casino off Highway 42, was closed from 7 p.m. Thursday evening until 6 a.m. Friday morning when sheriff’s deputies allowed employees to return to work.
A federal judge ruled late Friday afternoon to temporarily close the casino until a hearing set for Oct. 15 will determine to future of the casino.
The sheriff’s department says it will maintain a presence at the casino until it feels things have been settle and order is completely restored. There are currently three to four deputies on scene and will remain there until the situation can be reviewed.