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Ask the Reporters: EXPOSÉ on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL

This week, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL collaborated with EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS to tell the story of a journalist from THE DENVER POST as he reports on the broken justice system on Indian reservations across the country.

The MOYERS BLOG is no longer accepting questions regarding this story. We thank Michael Riley of the DENVER POST for taking time to answer your questions at this link.


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Fascinating take on this, being a pilot I'm usually keen to learn much more about aviation.

As a 30 years, retired, detective from a county dept. in Washington State, I was impressed with the reported piece. I was disappointed in the response of some of the AUSAs refusal to handle crimes against people because it would not further their careers like "big drug cases" might. Those lawyers should be dismissed and complaints filed against them via the bar assocs.
Thanks, keep them coming!

'Center for Judicial Accountability, Inc. (CJA)'
Subject: "THE WHOLE FUTURE OF THE COUNTRY DEPENDS ON THIS GEORGIA RUN-OFF NOW SET FOR DEC. 2nd." DICK MORRIS
see,HELP HOLD SENATORS CHAMBLISS AND CLINTON ACCOUNTABLE on our CJA website http://judgewatch.org/elections-2008/westchester-guardian.pdf
This advance copy of an article from the Westchester Guardian (White Plains, NY) 11/27/08 issue concerning Senators Chambliss and Clinton is of such major importance and timeliness that, unprecedented as he said it was for him, as a public service, the Editor of the Westchester Guardian (914-328 3096) has given us permission to disseminate it nationwide in advance of its appearing on the local newsstands here in Westchester NY.

We believe Georgia voters -- and voters everywhere in this country -- are entitled to know about it BEFORE the Georgia run-offs next week because it shows that both Senators, Republican and Democrat alike, were complicitous in the corruption of our federal judicial nominating process and are unfit for public office.

We ask that you broadcast it to your media outlets in every form and description and that Bill Moyers Journal do its own independent investigation of our legitimate, longstanding complaints against these two public officials who have as yet to be held to account. Until such time, those who know the true facts cannot have confidence that there will ever be "justice" in America.
Doris L. Sassower, Co-Founder and President
Center for Judicial Accountability,Inc.

Hey Bill:
Quick question; Their are checks and ballances for everthing, for wall-street, for the leading branches of government, for the housing crisis, etc. Question; How are we to deal with another unaddressed culprit, no rent control, and realistically conceive we will one day be able to own a home, that unregulated rent prices disable us the ability to save for that home in the first place? Thanks.

I would like to commend the interviewees for their courage to share their experience and stories about the great need in Indian Country. This piece along has likely brought more national and international attention to what must be done to protect all who lives, resides and visits Indian Country and to prosecute those who commit major crimes in Indian Country. Obviously, it will take more than this piece of media attention but it is paramount step in the right the direction.

I also hope that tribal leaders will build upon the work of Vernon Roanhorse and Troy Eid. Both have contributed greatly and deserve to be honored and appreciated. Mr. Eid, particularly, has done more to improve tribal law enforcement than any modern day or current U.S. Attorney.

As an enrolled tribal member and an attorney for Indian tribes, I have observed the broken prosecutorial system and broken souls and spirits of victims of major crimes. The system must change and improve in order for victims' souls and spirits to finally begin to be healed and restored.

Thank you Nick Fontana for setting Expose straight. I was in awe as well to see so many errors. As a tribal criminal prosecutor, I understand that we have a job to do as well, and can't blame the feds for our lack of diligence in prosecuting a crime in Indian Country. Great job.

This may more properly belong in your feedback section rather than a comment. Nonetheless:

Consider for a future program an interview with James Davis, Prof. of religion, Middlebury College, Vermont. His new book is titled "On Religious Liberty - Selections from the Works of Roger Williams" (Belknap Press), 2008.

Davis argues that the 17th century Puritan, Roger Williams, deserves to be more widely recognized as a leader of religious freedom movement in our country, and for the separation of church and state. Williams' writings on these subjects were influential in the New England colonies a century before they were promoted by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who are today more widely thought of as key originators of the benefits of separation that we honor today in our Constitution.

I am writing in hopes that you will correct several profound errors in the Expose story regarding criminal justice in Indian Country. As an attorney who has practiced exclusively in a tribal court for the past five years, I was disturbed not only by the sensational tone of the piece, but by the inaccurate statements of law and fact. The following is a list of statements made by Sylvia Chase, Troy Eid and others that are not correct:

Sylvia Chase: That's because in most of Indian country - the legal term for Native American lands - the federal government has the sole authority to investigate and to prosecute almost all felonies.

This statement is incorrect. Excluding what are known as PL-280 jurisdictions, the tribes retain jurisdiction over all criminal offenses committed by Indians in Indian Country -- including offenses which would be considered a felony. In the case of Leonard Apachito's assault on his cousin, the Navajo tribal prosecutor could have charged him with attempted criminal homicide, aggravated assault, battery, and any other number of offenses. http://www.ongd.navajo.org/files/nnca.pdf

It is true that Mr. Apachito could have been charged in federal court pursuant to the provisions of the Major Crimes Act, but the assertion that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over serious offense committed by an Indian in Indian Country is not correct.

Sylvia Chase: Riley learned that if a felony in Indian country involves two non-Indians, it is tried in state court. However, if either the assailant or the victim is an Indian, neither the state nor the tribe has jurisdiction. The crime must be tried in federal court. To better understand an extremely complex system, Riley turned to the U.S. attorney for Colorado: Troy Eid.

This analysis of criminal jurisdiction is incorrect. It is true that criminal jurisdiction is driven by the race of the defendant and victim. As a starting point, the tribes do not have criminal jurisdiction where the defendant is not an Indian. Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978). The tribes may exercise criminal jurisdiction over any Indian who is alleged to have committed a criminal offense within the exterior boundaries of a reservation.

TROY EID: It used to be that the tribes could punish their own members. If an Indian tribe got into a conflict with another tribe, or if say two tribal members got into a fight, whatever it might be, the tribes would work that out. But, starting in 1885, Congress took that power away.

When Congress passed the Major Crimes Act in 1885, it did not "take away" the tribe's power to prosecute tribal members for serious offenses. Rather, the act allowed the federal government to prosecute tribal members in federal court for certain enumerated offenses. Under the Separate Sovereign Doctrine, a tribal member defendant may be prosecuted by both the tribe and the federal government without violating the double jeopardy provision of the Bill of Rights.

MICHAEL RILEY: Almost a year later, neither she nor her daughter had been interviewed, either by the tribal police or by the FBI; the case just wasn't going anywhere. As far as we know, all there was a police report and then nothing.

I do not doubt the factual accuracy of this statement. It is true that the Justice Department has consistently failed in its duty to prosecute serious offenses in Indian Country. However, the statement is also indicative of Navajo prosecutor Vernon Roanhorse's failure to do his job. Assuming that the alleged perpetrator is a member of any Indian tribe, the Navajo Tribe has the power to prosecute the alleged offender. If the alleged offender is not an enrolled member of an Indian tribe, the Navajo Tribe has the power to remove him from the reservation. The same is true regarding the assault on Ben Francisco.

SYLVIA CHASE: If a tribal prosecutor, like Vernon Roanhorse, is officially informed of a declination, he can lower a felony charge - like murder or rape - to that of a misdemeanor and bring the case before a tribal court. But to Troy Eid, the Colorado U.S. attorney, that option just adds insult to injury.
TROY EID: On the federal side, we can prosecute all the way up - in fact, if it's homicide we can seek the death penalty. But, if it's a tribal government that prosecutes, the most they're allowed to seek is a year in jail, and a $5,000.00 fine. Congress does not let them seek anything above that ceiling.

First of all, tribal prosecutors may file charges on cases without waiting for federal declination letters. Second, the vast majority of tribal criminal codes do not distinguish between felonies and misdemeanors. Crimes are simply referred to as "offenses." Some tribal codes specify the punishment to be imposed upon conviction for a certain offense. The Indian Civil Rights Act, 25 USC 1302(7), provides that tribal judges may not impose for conviction of any one offense any penalty or punishment greater than imprisonment for a term of one year and [or] a fine of $ 5,000, or both. However, tribal judges routinely "stack" sentences for a single course of criminal conduct. Stacking has been upheld by one U.S. District Court, Ramos v. Pyramid Tribal Court, 621 F.Supp. 967 (D.C. Nev. 1985), and barred by another, Spears v. Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, 363 F.Supp.2d 1176 (D.C. Minn. 2005).

MICHAEL RILEY: Had the FBI arrested Leonard Apachito within that four months, he would have been in jail and he wouldn't have been in Albuquerque and Arthur Schobey would still be alive.

It may have also been said that had Vernon Roanhorse exercised the tribe's criminal jurisdiction and filed charges against Mr. Apachito rather than wait for the federal government to take action, Arthur Schobey would still be alive.

Although I am pleased that Bill Moyer's Journal was willing to cover the issue of criminal justice in Indian Country, I was disappointed that the story was riddled with errors. The federal government's failure to provide adequate resources for enforcing federal criminal law in Indian Country is a disgrace; however, it may also be said the tribes, all of which are fierce advocates of tribal sovereignty, have failed in their duty to protect tribal members. It is unfortunate that Expose relied on Denver Post series. A far better treatment of the issues appeared in the Wall Street Journal in a series of articles by reporter Gary Fields.

Thank you for this - it's a start.

The town I live in borders an Indian Reservation - and the amount of prejudice against them seen in town is absolutely appalling. Whites can terrorize, degrade and humiliate the Native American - and everyone just looks away. Most crimes committed are due to the local 'townies' assaulting the Natives.

I will give Kudos to the Tribal Police and State Police for working well together when ever possible. Unfortunately - there is still prejudice in the local police. If any other minority was treated this way - there would be outcries, marches, public debate. But - because they are Native American they are ignored.

What is not also mentioned - is the vigilante style justice that happens because the courts ignore the crimes.

I have heard this story before especially concerning the astounding numbers of indian women who have been raped. I think the Expose version could have been greatly improved by pointing out it is not always natives committing crimes on reservations. Non-native men are also rarely pursued, so some have come to see the reservation as a lawless brothel.

Instead Expose chose to reinforce the familiar stereotypes about impoverished minorities that will probably make many people shrug their shoulders in apathy, thinking 'whatever...the good-for-nothings are just killing each other'

I was saddened to read Anderson's comment.
The goal is not to give away the Tribe's jurisdiction/authority over their lands and the people living on their lands. The goal is for the federal government to protect the basic rights of United States citizens.

Thanks for bringing this issue to the attention of the public. Unfortunately the law as stated on your show was just wrong, at least for the reservation I've been working on for the past 11 years. The Tribes and the federal government actually have concurrent jurisdiction. The Tribes prosecute murders, sex assault, etc and then the federal government prosecutes as well. I know this is true since I am now representing a client in an attempted homicide case and another charged with multiple sex assault counts against victims, all on the reservation.
Furthermore, although congress has stated that tribes can only give one year per crime, many tribal prosecutors are stacking the charging documents so that defendants can actually receive more than one year.
The issue that was invisible in your piece was the incredible growth of tribal court systems. The goal here is to somehow manage to get enough funding allocated for tribal police, courts, defenders, etc so that sovereign nations can take care of crime in their own communities. Begging the federal government to make good on promises to Indian people never worked in the past. Why should that strategy work now?
Thanks,
Renee Caubisens
Tribal Public Defender
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Pendleton, Oregon

I would like to point out in response to an earlier comment that Indian Law is quite complicated and that Montana is among the 10 option states under Federal Law 280. Montana can provide limited jurisdiction over tribes that give their consent. This does apply in all states. However, the issue is not really extending state jurisdiction. The issue is one of extending jurisdiction to the tribes, and making the funds available so that they can have adequate law enforcement and prosecute these crimes.

It´s about time that there is equal justice for our native Americans especially after hundred of years of injustices. No wonder there is a boom in Indian run casinos to help better their community. The Feds haven´t done a good job. Just look at the oil companies that are pumping out oil from some of the native lands in Montana...and just a pittance is given back.

I missed half of the program. When will this be repeated?

If congress authorized money to the FBI to address this issue and to hire new FBI agents - what happened to that funding (tax dollars)? As for solutions, FBI should be required to use the congressional funding to place agents/staff on site

I noticed that USA Troy Eid, a Bush appointee who may have been associated with Jack Abramoff, has the ultimate responsibility for the prosecution of crime on Indian lands. Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that prosecutions have not improved under his aegis. He spent a large amount of money going after Mr. Nacchio, the CEO of Quest (or is it Kwest) who refused to spy on Americans while AT&T, Verizon et al. fell over themselves to help President Bush trample on our Fourth Amendment rights. When Nacchio won on appeal, Eid hired a high profile litigator and appealed the appeal. He spends millions of tax payer dollars on politically motivated high profile cases and ignores violence, rape and child abuse in the Native American lands. I certainly hope President Obama will look carefully at those US attorneys who benefited from the Justice Department purge.

The last thing needed in Dinetah is more people in prison. It's not the justice system that is broken, it is:

The Indian Country jail population has increased an estimated 24 percent since 2004

For every 100,000 American Indians, 942 were incarcerated.

Four of the Navajo Nation’s detention centers out of 18 jails in Indian Country operated above 150 percent capacity on their peak day in June 2007.

While new jails may have been constructed in Indian Country, the dilapidated facilities on Navajo were shut down completely or temporarily for repairs and maintenance.

Though American Indians and Alaskan Natives account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. resident population, they make up 1 percent of inmates in jail or prison.

http://www.gallupindependent.com/2008/11november/111208fury.html

Your story attempts to bring shame to the Dineh. You might also look at BIA corruption, BIA schools, poverty and cutbacks in IHS and Justice Dept.

Just three doctors serve 4,000 Mescalero Apaches

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/july-dec08/newmexico_10-15.html

Tribal leaders expressed great concern over the fiscal year 2009 budget requests that eliminated the tribal line items in the budget for the Justice Department. Tribal leaders also expressed the challenges associated with preventing and reducing crime without adequate manpower. Tribal leaders displayed strong advocacy in requesting additional funding for manpower.

http://www.navajo.org/News%20Releases/Joshua%20Lavar%20Butler/Mar08/032708.MacDonald.LoneTree.TJAG.Washington.pdf

What a pathetically biased piece of misleading reporting. I am shocked to see it endorsed by Mr. Moyers.

25 USC 1321 allows a tribe to choose state law and jurisdiction, over federal law and jurisdiction. See, KENNERLY v. DISTRICT COURT OF MONTANA, 400 U.S. 423 (1971). The problem is not exclusively with the FBI or U.S. Dept. of Justice. See also 18 USC 1162, which specifically waives federal jurisdiction over tribes in 6 states.

I now realize that the reporting on Bill Moyer's Journal cannot be trusted to present anything even close to a reasonable and balanced perspective on an issue -- for which the objective fact of existing law can be found on the internet with less than 30 minutes of research.

I have for a number of years advocated to a number of native american newpapers and elected representatives that to develope native american governed areas a effort should made by tribal governments to establish with federal authoritys native american national guard air and army elements IE reserve units under the command of the tribal government and the US executive branch.

I was aware of the complicated judicial system enforced in the Native American reservations, but I was appalled to find out the statistics that involve so many unsolved crimes and lack of any accountability by the US Attorneys and the FBI. Has there been any improvement since the exposure of The Denver Post investigation and how can we help to raise more awareness to the public?

I have worked as a Registered Nurse for several years on the Navajo Nation and have seen first hand the abuse and lack of prosecution of the offenders. I know of a MD who had to personally go to the State Attorney General to even get an investigation of a repeated rapist. I too would like to know, what do you see as a solution? What can/should a non Native living there be doing? Thank you for bringing this to the public.

I would like to thank you for the timely and very informative Journal. I have just watched EXPOSÉ on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL. It's sad that there is such indifference to injustice on Indian reservation. Over the years I have read similarly heartbreaking stories. Indians do have to stand up for themselves. The public knows very little about life on the reservations. It takes a Dr Martin Luther King Jr type of character to stand and tirelessly fight for a cause, and Indians do need such an individual or individuals from their own. Then the rest of the population will get behind them.
Ms. M. Kinya

What didn't necessarily come through is what the possible solutions to this problem are, so I would like the reporters to comment- Do they feel that we should subject sovereign nations to the same laws and systems of the rest of the country? Or, should we try to compel the U.S. Attorneys, FBI and DOJ to do a better job at enforcing the law in Indian Country?

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