Eid: Southern Ute leader is making Colorado safer


"One man with courage makes a majority.'' So said President Andrew Jackson, who, based on his so-called ''removal'' policy of forcibly relocating Native Americans to distant reservations, did not much care for Indians.

What would Jackson say about a courageous Southern Ute tribal member, and a woman at that, who stood up to the federal government in order to make southwestern Colorado safer?

This inspiring story starts with a mundane topic: criminal jurisdiction.

Law enforcement on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and surrounding communities in southwestern Colorado can be extremely challenging because so many different jurisdictional rules apply to offenses committed there.

For instance, many crimes by non-Indians against tribal members and other Natives on the reservation are covered by federal law. When a non-Indian victimizes another non-Indian, however, state law applies. In contrast, crimes by tribal members against each other, or against non-Indians, may be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Southern Ute Department of Justice's tribal prosecutor, or both.

The Southern Ute Tribe navigates this jurisdictional maze through ''cross-deputation'' agreements. This means tribal officers, wildlife rangers and Division of Gaming investigators are ''commissioned'' as federal law enforcement officers upon competing jurisdictional training from the BIA of the U.S. Department of the Interior. These officers still work for the tribe, but they also wear a second hat: once cross-deputized, they can issue federal citations for violations of federal law that occur on the reservation.

Obtaining these so-called ''special commissions'' from the BIA can literally mean the difference between life and death. For instance, say a Southern Ute police officer responds to a domestic violence crime where the victim has been sexually assaulted and seriously injured. The perpetrator is not an Indian, while his victim is a tribal member.

Under federal law, the tribe lacks criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians on reservation land. If the tribal officer has a special commission from the BIA, he or she can arrest and detain the perpetrator, who is then prosecuted by my office in federal court.

Unfortunately, the BIA's training capacity is stretched to the limit and must be spread over more than 200 Indian tribes. When the Southern Ute Tribe asked for on-site special-commission training last fall, in order to include state and local law enforcement leaders to ensure seamless inter-agency cooperation, the BIA said no.

The good news is that Janelle Doughty, director of justice and regulatory affairs for the Southern Ute Tribe, refused to take ''no'' for an answer.

Instead, Doughty - a charismatic former victims' advocate and social worker who is a current member of the Leadership LaPlata program - challenged me, as a U.S. Attorney, to get out of my office in Denver and address a problem that affects everyone in southwestern Colorado.

Never mind that I work with and for the attorney general, not the Secretary of the Interior, and that I have nothing to do with the BIA. Ultimately, Doughty pointed out, it was President Bush who appointed me.

''If the BIA won't train our officers and rangers,'' Doughty told me, ''then I'm just going to tell them that you will do it for us.''

Well, that's just what Doughty did. The result was the first-ever ''pilot program'' for Indian tribal officer special-commission training, sponsored in early April by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado and the BIA's Indian Police Academy.

In the end, three assistant U.S. attorneys - Jim Allison, chief of our Criminal Division; Durango Branch Office Chief Jim Candelaria; and veteran prosecutor Roxane Perruso - and myself worked with Doughty and her staff to condense the BIA's training into just two days. On Feb. 7 and 8, Tribal Council Chairman Clement Frost kicked off our experimental training session in Ignacio. Nearly 40 officers participated from the Southern Ute Police Department, Southern Ute Rangers, LaPlata County Sheriff's Department, Archuleta County Sheriff's Department and Durango Police Department.

The training itself covered the intricacies of criminal jurisdiction within Indian country, along with officer liability, federal court procedure and fundamentals such as crime scene investigation, report writing and witness preparation and testimony.

Using the identical BIA exam questions, along with an improved approach to training that emphasized officer participation, our pilot program was 100 percent successful. Every officer passed the exam at the conclusion of the training - in less than half the time it ordinarily takes. All tribal officers can now be cross-deputized to write federal citations. Every participant has a deeper understanding of how federal crimes can be more successfully investigated and prosecuted on Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and other Indian reservations, benefiting citizens throughout the Four Corners region.

Janelle Doughty's simple idea - take the training to the officers and just get it done - has national implications. Given the results of our pilot program, the BIA's Police Academy has asked Doughty and my office to help develop a new training program and examination for use on other Indian reservations throughout the United States.

Training more tribal law enforcement officers more quickly, and at less expense and fewer headaches, makes sense for everyone. And all it took was one determined Southern Ute leader who wouldn't accept anything short of ''yes.''

The Honorable Troy Eid is the U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado.