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Non-Indian interloper charged with marijuana possession on Schaghticoke reservation

A non-Indian man who has been tearing up land and desecrating burial sites on the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s reservation has been stopped – at least temporarily – but with no thanks to the Department of Environmental Protection or Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who have refused to stop the destruction for almost two years.

Michael Rost, 44, was charged with marijuana possession April 30 when state troopers accompanied a marshal to deliver a cease and desist order issued by the Kent Inland Wetlands Commission to stop his activities on the land.

According to police documents, when the troopers approached a three-sided “rock-like structure,” they found a loaded rifle and a bag of marijuana that was later determined to have been hidden in the rocks by Rost’s co-defendant, Janet Lester, who was charged with marijuana possession and interfering an officer.

When Rost approached the troopers, he “began screaming at us to get off his property. Rost became very loud and began shouting about Indian property and the state not having jurisdiction on the property,” the police report says. Rost told the troopers that the three-sided structure was his house.

According to the report, when the police told Rost they would retain custody of the marijuana for further investigation, Rost said, “Give me back my. ... marijuana.”

The troopers then told Rost that he had just admitted ownership of the marijuana, but Rost said “that he did not and that the marijuana was for ceremonial purposes and that the rock structure was a church.”

He told police the rifle belonged to someone else, then demanded “his” rifle back, saying he needed it for protection. When the troopers asked who he needed protection from, Rost said, “you, the FBI and the Hell’s Angels.”

At the arraignment June 9, Rost again told Superior Court Judge Corinne L. Klatt that he needed the drug for “ceremonial purposes.”

He also told the judge he wasn’t guilty of marijuana possession because Connecticut laws don’t apply on the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s reservation where he claims to live.

“It is a sovereign community of people on sovereign land and no one has ever been given jurisdiction over Indian affairs. The state police had no right to trespass,” Rost said.

The judge told Rost to stop talking and to consult an attorney before incriminating himself.

The cease and desist was issued by the Kent Inland Wetlands Commission at the end of April after members made a site visit and saw the environmental damage Rost’s activities had caused. He was ordered to stop excavation, clear cutting, clearing and grating within regulated areas, rerouting water courses without a valid permit and any construction within 200 feet of any waterways.

Rost, a non-Indian man, has been tearing up land on the reservation since late 2007. The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation was federally recognized by the BIA in 2004, then had its recognition retracted by the BIA after a campaign of political opposition led by Blumenthal.

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The nation has no tribal law enforcement agency and for the past two years the tribe’s environmental and conservation committees and individual tribal members have tried to get state police and the Department of Environmental Protection, which holds the land in trust for the tribe, to stop Rost.

The cease and desist order also named the DEP, an action that elicited a strong objection from Commissioner Gina McCarthy.

“As you know, the DEP did not conduct any activity that is the subject of this cease and desist order. Therefore, I assume that you did not intend to issue the cease and desist order to the DEP as a respondent,” she wrote.

The Inland Wetlands Commission later dropped DEP from the lawsuit on the advice of its attorney.

McCarthy also referred to the alleged “leadership” conflict in the tribe.

Spokesmen for the DEP and state police said Blumenthal advised them not to intervene because of what he claims is a “leadership dispute” in the tribe between Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky and a group that calls itself the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe.

Velky could not be reached for comment.

According to court and BIA documents, the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe changed its name to Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in the early ‘90s when it was preparing to file its petition for federal recognition. In the late ‘90s, after the petition was filed, former Chief Alan Russell claimed he was still the SIT chief, despite a variety of court and other documents, including his own deposition, showing he had been voted out and that SIT had changed to STN.

The Russell “faction” fractionalized further in late 2007 when his sister, Gail Harrison Donovan, declared she had deposed her brother and she was now chief of SIT. Donovan filed documents with the DEP saying she had given Rost the power to act on behalf of her “tribe.”

Blumenthal has based his allegation of a “leadership conflict” on these claims by Russell and Donovan, despite the fact that there is a legal process in the state of Connecticut by which leadership challenges are to be resolved and, according to Freedom of Information requests from his office and the DEP, no such legal challenge to Velky’s leadership has occurred.

This is not the first time Rost has been charged.

Russell brought Rost onto the reservation in 2004 soon after STN was federally recognized. A few months later, both were charged with reckless endangerment and criminal mischief for moving gigantic boulders onto the reservation and placing them around and against the community pavilion. Russell’s charges were dismissed, but Rost was found guilty and given 18 months probation and told not to do anything on the reservation.

Police records also show that Rost was arrested and found guilty of possession of marijuana in 1999, and in 2000 he was found guilty of breach of peace and disorderly conduct, and given two years probation.