COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - A Coeur d'Alene tribal councilman and former policeman said he feels his cousin was arrested in retaliation for critical comments he made in a news story regarding the FBI's poor handling of reservation crimes committed by non-tribal members.
Nick Matheson was arrested on May 10 on a domestic violence charge that purportedly took place a full five weeks before the arrest. His cousin, Chiarpah Matheson who was recently elected to the tribal council, claims no indictment or arrest warrant was issued to Nick Matheson at the time of the arrest.
"He's facing 30 years in a federal penitentiary for a matter that rightly and justly belongs in our own tribal courts. At most, this should be processed as a midemeanor (sic) under the jurisdiction and laws of the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Court," said Donna Matheson, tribal communication director, in a written editorial comment.
Nick Matheson was accused of assaulting his wife, a non-tribal member, in late March. Donna Matheson, Nick's aunt, claims that there is no evidence of serious bodily injury or harm.
Apparently Nick Matheson's wife tried to contact the FBI to recant her statements. The FBI allegedly refuses to take another statement claiming this is typical of battered women who are coerced into refuting their own stories. Tribal sources say the Mathesons reconciled and have been living together.
Chiarpah Matheson is a former tribal police officer. He said he is confused as to the reason none of the proper protocols for arrest were followed. He said that the FBI has refused to get involved in other, more serious cases.
He claims two men arrested by tribal police officers on rape charges were held for two months waiting for the FBI to handle the case. The bureau declined to get involved and the two men were eventually set free since tribal court can only handle misdemeanors.
Since his election to the council in April, Chiarpah Matheson had been vocal in his criticism of the FBI and other outside law enforcement agencies in their handling of crimes committed by non-tribal members on tribal lands.
In early May the Spokane Spokesman Review ran a story that documented Chiarpah Matheson's struggles to have a non-tribal drug dealer arrested and tried in tribal court, while his tribal-member girlfriend was quickly indicted in a tribal court on misdemeanor drug charges.
FBI spokesman Robert Davis of the Coeur d'Alene field office will not comment on the case in keeping with agency protocol on pending investigations. He did say he feels that the agency does an adequate job handling crimes on the reservation.
"When we get a call on the reservation, we send our people out immediately, there is no delay."
Chiarpah Matheson campaigned on the promise he would try to gain cross-deputization status for tribal police officers. As it stands, tribal police are only allowed to arrest tribal members and tribal courts only have authority within the tribe.
In response, Matheson organized an anti-drug organization known as the Rediscovery Movement. Originally conceived while Matheson was completing his college degree, the Rediscovery Movement attempts to fight illegal drug use by incorporating traditional culture with modern substance abuse counseling.
The Rediscovery Movement staged its first large event in early May with a protest march that attracted more than 100 people who marched noisily through three reservation towns to put drug dealers on alert that the community was fed up, Matheson said.
Another planned protest at a house where a non-tribal member was known for selling drugs was postponed because per capita checks, used by users to purchase drugs was delayed, he said.
The message, however, seems to be getting out. Chiarpah Matheson claims that drug sales on the reservation have declined in the past month and many known drug dealers are avoiding the reservation because of heightened awareness.
"We want nothing less than to stigmatize the drug dealers, to make them think twice before coming here," Matheson said.
As a former tribal police officer he tells several stories of non-tribal drug dealers going free because of delayed FBI response. He said the Rediscovery Movement is a necessary reaction of the community to create a hostile environment for lawbreakers that tribal members feel have gravitated toward the reservation because of lax FBI enforcement.
This high profile anti-drug public campaign led directly to the Spokesman Review story. Matheson acknowledges that it may be coincidence that his cousin was arrested a few days after the story was published. However both Donna and Chiarpah Matheson say arresting agents "brazenly cited the (Spokesman Review) article and asserted facetiously that they had better start 'doing something' because of it."
A week after Nick Matheson's arrest, a grand jury was finally assembled and an indictment was formally handed down. For now, Nick Matheson is held at a federal detention center in Sandpoint where he is expected to be arraigned for a formal trial at a later date.