‘Can’t Tolerate This Level of Violence’ Say South Dakota Cops
Mary Annette Pember
Oglala Sioux tribal authorities on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and law enforcement leaders in Pennington County and Rapid City are seeking a law enforcement agreement with the Oglala Sioux tribe. If completed, the agreement would set a historic precedent in law enforcement relations between sovereign tribal and non-Native communities.
Officials from the Pennington County Sheriff’s office, Rapid City police department (Rapid City, Pennington County’s Seat, is about two hours away from the Pine Ridge reservation) and Pennington County State’s Attorney Office met with members of Oglala Sioux tribe’s Law and Order Committee at tribal offices in Pine Ridge on Wednesday July 12 to discuss their ongoing efforts to agree on ways to extradite criminals between jurisdictions as well as share policing resources.
Rapid City and Pennington County law enforcement representatives presented a draft agreement to the members of the Committee for their consideration.
According to both tribal and non-tribal law enforcement, offenders from Rapid City flee to the Pine Ridge Reservation and vice-versa, capitalizing on the historical lack of collaboration between the jurisdictions.
Interim Chief of Oglala Sioux Tribe Police, Mark Mesteth noted that suspects running from one jurisdiction to another often reoffend and create more victims.
“These are offenders who don’t meet the threshold of violence for the feds to pursue prosecution, such as perpetrators of domestic violence, beatings or assault,” Mesteth said.
If an agreement is met, Mesteth opined that tribal police could immediately clear up to 200 arrest warrants.
“Too many times people cross jurisdictions and keep getting away with these crimes. We are saying, “no more!” Chief Mesteth told the Committee.
Leaders from all jurisdictions present at the meeting noted that both Rapid City and Pine Ridge have seen a dramatic rise in drug arrests and violent crime in the past five years.
There were at least 17 homicides in Pine Ridge in 2016. Rapid City has had five homicides so far in 2017.
“This is a public safety issue for both communities, communities that often share the same citizens,” Mark Vargo, Pennington County States Attorney said.
Vargo further noted that some of the worst crimes committed on the Pine Ridge reservations were committed by people fleeing state warrants.
The agreement, according to its authors from the tribe’s Law and Order Committee and non-Native authorities, would primarily represent an extradition agreement between sovereign entities. For instance, if a suspect is wanted by tribal police and has fled to Rapid City, tribal police could request that Rapid City police arrest the suspect and hold the person until tribal police could collect him/her, the procedure would be the same for county or city suspects who have fled to Pine Ridge.
The agreement would not empower county or city police to enter the reservation and arrest suspects or vice versa according to Karl Jergeris, Rapid City Chief of Police.
Citizens of the Pine Ridge reservation, however, are skeptical of the agreement and concerned about potential encroachments on the tribe’s sovereignty.
Tribal Vice President Darla Black expressed her concern that the agreement would jeopardize tribal sovereignty and undermine the tribe’s ability to care for its own people.
“What happened to our pride and taking care of our own? We need to write more grants and hire more of our own police,” she said.
Sonia Little Hawk-Weston, member of the Law and Order Committee, thanked Vice President Black for her remarks but noted that Pine Ridge citizens are afraid.
“People are scared and are crying out for our help,” she said.
“Our priority is to work on violence reduction. People want to feel safe,” she added.
“We need to come up with a way to work together. (with other jurisdictions) As a tribe, we can’t do it all alone. We need to do this in a way that doesn’t’ jeopardize our sovereignty,” Little Hawk-Weston said.
Law and Order committee member CJ Clifford opined that any agreement between the tribe and other law enforcement entities would need to very clearly spell out how officers behave on the ground.
Currently, for instance, details regarding hot pursuit crossing over jurisdictions have not yet been hammered out, according to Chief Jegeris. In a hot pursuit, police are chasing a fleeing suspect. Now, police must stop a pursuit at the borders of their respective jurisdictions.
There is a lot of misunderstanding of the issue of sovereignty versus jurisdiction according to Chief Jegeris.
“We know full well that this is a fragile topic,” he said.
Jegeris noted that a forum is scheduled on Thursday, July 20 at 10:00 a.m. at the Oglala Lakota College (OLC) in Kyle in which the public is invited to discuss the proposed agreement. The forum will be broadcast on KILI radio as well as the OLC public access channel.
“We want to subject ourselves to hard questions from the community. We are talking about the safety or our children; we can’t tolerate this level of violence anymore in our communities,” Jegeris said.