Tribal dissidents say retaliation and conflict of interest
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After a May 26 raid on their reservation, casino and
tribal members, the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians have issued a video
in which tribal chairwoman Pricilla Hunter, among others, recount a
harrowing tale of what they describe as overzealous use of force by the
The video is the only statement issued by Hunter thus far in wake of the
raids that involved more than 100 law enforcement agents at several
locations both on and off the reservation.
The video largely features Hunter describing the events of the raid as well
as a few other tribal members at other locations giving their own account.
In the video Hunter said that she was startled to hear loud banging at her
door with threats to "kick in" the door if there was not an answer. Hunter
claimed that her daughter-in-law answered the door and that several law
enforcement officers stormed her place with guns drawn.
Hunter claimed the police did not identify themselves but shouted for her
and any other occupants of the house to come into the front room.
"I thought, what the hell, these could be gangsters," said Hunter, who also
alleged that the law enforcement officers refused to show a search warrant.
Hunter claimed that she was handcuffed and that guns were drawn even though
her 2 and 4 year old grandchildren were in the room. She alleged that she
had also received reports of similar instances with children at other
houses and a woman Hunter describes as an "81 year old Auntie" was also
held and not allowed to take heart medication.
Furthermore, she said the children were forced to pose for mug shots,
though she also said the law enforcement officers on the scene said they
were not mug shots, and had to hold up nameplates for pictures taken of
Though no arrests were made, a point that Hunter makes very clearly in her
video statement, she claims to have been held for 11 hours and was at first
denied permission to call her attorney.
During her video statement, Hunter tearfully recalled law enforcement
officers initially denying her the right to call her attorney.
There had been conflicting reports for the reasons for the raid. The United
States Attorney's Office in San Francisco, who had ordered the raid, only
increased speculation when they refused to comment on the reasons behind
the action. Apparently, at least Hunter seemed convinced that the raid was
the result of the tribe operating their casino without a compact agreement
with the state of California.
Federal search warrants are unobtainable and the warrants issued were
allegedly for papers that contained the minutes of tribal council meetings.
Hunter defended the tribe's right to run the casino by pointing out that
because of a dispute over the compacts, a federal court had issued a stay
allowing the tribe to operate their Shodokai casino in Mendocino County
while the legal issues were being resolved.
According to the tribe, those legal issues have to do with parts of the
compact that they feel violate tribal sovereignty. The tribe thought the
issue was solved when the Supreme Court refused to hear their case and left
the tribe with no other option than to negotiate.
Currently the tribe is involved in negotiations with the state and Hunter
said that she is puzzled as to why the state would choose to clamp down on
the tribe while negotiations were under way.
Tribal member Eric Rodriguez is also seen in the video and he describes a
similar scene at his residence some 10 miles distant from Coyote Valley. In
his video statement Rodriguez does not question the right of law
enforcement to investigate the matter but wonders why they would use such
"They acted like it was a drug raid or something," said Rodriguez, who
added that the officers demanded that papers be turned over to them. "They
used way too much force for papers."
CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND RETALIATION?
Hunter made the claim that the reason for the fight was that the tribe was
being made an example of because they were fighting for tribal sovereignty.
Apparently the raid came after claims made by dissident tribal members, an
issue also raised and addressed by Hunter in her video statement. She
claimed that the internal tribal dispute originated over changes proposed
by her council to the tribal constitution. Rumors have surfaced that claim
dissident tribal members were the ones who alerted law enforcement over
alleged abuse of tribal funds by the council.
Published reports on the financial spending of tribal council members have
thus far been inconclusive. Most of the money in question was spent at
hotels during intertribal meetings and conferences in Southern California
and may have been legitimate business expenses. A relatively small amount
was spent at a department store and Disneyland, though the reasons for
these expenditures are still unknown.
Hunter seemed to make the claim that the problem with the dissident members
is over proposed changes to the tribal constitution that would change blood
quantum requirements to allow more people onto the rolls.
That is news to John Seliz Sr., one of the dissident tribal members. Seliz
claimed the real reason for the dispute has to do with proposed changes
that he and other members feel are undemocratic. He alleged that Hunter's
council had made three separate constitutions and called for changes that
did not sit right with the dissident tribal members.
Among the changes that are opposed by the dissidents are requirements that
a tribal council member must have at least five years experience in tribal
government and that the treasurer be a certified public accountant.
Also in dispute is a 2002 election that Seliz claims the tribal council
refused to recognize in which Hunter's council was voted out. The matter of
the election is still under appeal to the BIA and Hunter's council has been
allowed to remain in charge while the appeal goes on.
However, Seliz continues that the current system is set up as to favor
incumbent tribal councils because they have tribal funds at their disposal
to fight challenges to the legitimacy of elections. The problem, as Seliz
sees it, is that since the introduction of gaming, tribes now have bigger
fund bases to dip into to fight these election challenges.
Additionally, what happens is that once an election is disputed the appeals
process leads to what has been described as a "ping pong match." Charles
Starr, who works for the nearby Pinoleville tribe explains that once an
election complaint is made it goes to the regional BIA office.
If their decision is not satisfactory then it goes to the Interior Board of
Indian Appeals (IBIA) who can then refer it back to the regional office,
thus creating a ping pong-like effect without final authority, something
that Starr claimed is happening at Coyote Valley.
There are also charges of conflict of interest in the Coyote Valley appeal.
Seliz points out that the superintendent of the Central California Agency,
in whose jurisdiction Coyote Valley lies, is Dale Risling, whose sister
Barbara is a lobbyist for Coyote Valley. Barbara Risling is also on the
legislative committee at the California Nations Indian Gaming Association
with Chairwoman Hunter.
Calls to Dale Risling were not returned by press time.
Seliz denied that he or any other dissident members had called the United
"If we would have had the power (to bring in the United States Attorney) we
would have done it a long time ago," said Seliz.
Seliz claimed to have been fired by the tribe after the raid from a
position at the tribal housing authority and said that several other
dissident members who were tribal employees had also suffered similar
Hunter was unable to return phone calls before press time because she was
with a sick relative. She did agree to speak to Indian Country Today after
the press deadline and her response to the charges will be addressed in a
As of now, according to Seliz, there are at least 60 dissidents, though he
claimed to have had over 100 people attending their most recent meeting a
week after the raid. According to Hunter the tribe has 268 total members,
168 who are voting members.
Caught in the middle of the entire ordeal are the 200 or so casino
employees and 100 employees in the tribal office. Officially the tribe has
given them a two-week vacation and has vowed to reopen the casino at that
time with additional games.