Ninth Circuit sides with Bishop Paiute Police
In March 2015, the Bishop Paiute Tribe sued Inyo County, Sheriff Bill Lutze and District Attorney Tom Hardy after Sheriff’s deputies and the District Attorney arrested and prosecuted the Tribe’s police officer, Daniel Johnson, for attempting to enforce a restraining order against a non-Indian on the reservation on Christmas Eve in 2014.
On Wednesday, July 19, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals posted its 19-page decision against the County in which it supported the Tribe’s position that Indian police do have powers over non-Indians on tribal land. The appeal’s case involved issues of federal law, tribal police powers, law enforcement of state and federal laws, and sovereignty on tribal lands.
Officer Johnson responded to a domestic disturbance call from a tribal member living on the reservation. The individual who made the call claimed his non-Indian ex-wife was at his home and was in violation of tribal and state domestic violence restraining orders he held against her. On arrival, Officer Johnson tased the woman, forced her to the ground, and allegedly injured her in the process.
Two weeks later, the District Attorney’s office charged Officer Johnson with assault and battery, use of a stun gun, false imprisonment, and impersonating a public officer. The latter charge was dropped when a court found that Johnson was acting as a tribal police officer when he responded to the call.
At the time, Sheriff Lutze issued a cease-and-desist order, telling tribal police not to enforce state laws or carry firearms off of the reservation. The Inyo County Sheriff’s position was that the tribal police have no authority to enforce state or federal laws, even on tribal land.
The Bishop Paiute Tribe responded quickly, saying that tribal police have “inherent tribal authority” to enforce the law over Indians and non-Indians on tribal land, and filed a court order to bar the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office from arresting or the DA from prosecuting its police officers while carrying out their official duties. Furthermore, the Tribe sought a declaration that its officers have the power to investigate violations of tribal, state, and federal law, and to detain and transport a non-Indian violator to state law enforcement authorities.