PINE RIDGE, S.D. - A group of 20 to 30 men and women marched to the Oglala Sioux tribal courthouse to oust Chief Judge Pat Lee and demanded their leader, Clyde Red Shirt, replace him.
After entering the courthouse the afternoon of July11, six of the self-described treaty council members stormed into Lee's office. After a brief and heated verbal exchange, Red Shirt grabbed Lee and tried to forcibly remove him from his office.
"I was elected by the people to be in this position and you don't have the power to remove me, "Lee said. Red Shirt's response was, "Yes we do," as he circled the desk and grabbed Lee's arm.
"Let's go. We're taking you out," Red Shirt said.
Judge Lee then pushed Red Shirt into a corner and said, "Take your hands off me or I'll knock you on your a--."
Lee said that he was dialing the phone to get police when Red Shirt reached over and grabbed the phone. Lee pushed Red Shirt away again and Red Shirt repeated, "Let's take him out," as he called other members of his group to help him.
"Only one person came forward, some short, fat white woman," Lee said.
Lee was able to identify four of the six - Russell and Arlette Blacksmith, Cathy Phillips, and Clyde Red Shirt. Russell Blacksmith, a minor, was arrested and later released. The non-Indian woman, Phillips, also was arrested. Red Shirt and Arlette Blacksmith and another unidentified non-Indian couple left along with the rest of the group.
Witnesses said the group at the courthouse included traditional elders Guy White Thunder and Walter Little Moon. Red Shirt, Little Moon and White Thunder were members of the Grassroots Oyate, the group occupying the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Red Cloud Building since Jan. 16. The three reportedly had a falling out with the Grassroots Oyate last March at a heated meeting there.
"Clyde Red Shirt was escorted from the building that time," said Public Safety Officer Frank Hill. Hill has been assigned as a security officer to the Red Cloud Building since the takeover.
The following morning, citing the Chief Judge's words and claiming to be a respected chief, Red Shirt swore out a complaint at the OST Public Safety jailhouse. The same morning, Lee issued a contempt of court citation against Red Shirt, saying, "So, once the police find him, he goes directly to jail from here."
If there is contempt of court in the presence of the judge, it can be adjudged, sentenced and punished summarily," Lee explained. Lee made a statement to tribal prosecutors who are expected to seek a warrant from another judge for Red Shirt's arrest on charges of assault and disorderly conduct.
The treaty council group, called Wolakota Nanca, left a letter the previous week with tribal court administrator Agnes Tyon. It demanded that Judge Lee attend one of their meetings. Lee was on vacation at the time and said he never received the letter, adding "It didn't matter. Their demand was absurd."
Red Shirt, a former tribal judge, was terminated in 1988. "He was terminated for a second or third time for unethical conduct by the tribal council," said Lee.
Asked about this most recent episode in the ongoing political turmoil on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Lee said, "I've lived my life here on this reservation, so I'm conditioned. I heard on the radio this morning that you need stress in your life or you'll fade away. How about a little moderation?"