Oglala council fires top lawmen, examine fiscal mismanagement

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Evidence of financial mismanagement in the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Public Safety Department was presented to the tribal council at a closed-door meeting here.

The council met in executive session April 14. Executive sessions are usual limited to discussion of private personnel matters, but Oglala District Councilman Floyd Brings Plenty said this meeting covered "far more serious things."

One of the issues, Brings Plenty said, was evidence of financial mismanagement in the tribe's Public Safety Department brought to the council's attention by the Rapid City accounting firm of Donna Danker & Associates.

"Another thing we discussed "was use of the department for political reasons. I think several people's civil rights were violated by the Public Safety board of directors, and by some of the members of its administration," Brings Plenty said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sally Galluzzo attended the meeting but declined to comment on the proceedings.

The council covered results of 1997 and ?98 audits recently completed by the Danker. Brings Plenty said the results were disturbing and raised very serious questions. "What seems to be present is a pattern where people are receiving checks with no supporting documentation for why they received the money. He said a preliminary look at samples of the department's 1999 financial records uncovered evidence of similar abuses.

"The results of these audits were given to Public Safety's board of directors two months ago, and all they did was sit on them," Tribal Councilman Craig Dillon said. "That's why (Donna Danker & Associates) brought them to us."

At an April 13 meeting in Rapid City, the council had passed a resolution to accept a $5 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department that would safeguard some 60 law enforcement jobs. The pilot grant, the Circle Project, is in a test phase on three reservations. The tribe had put the grant on hold because it did not fund indirect or costs of administration. Accepting the Justice grant meant the tribe would be liable for nearly $2 million.

BIA guidelines make indirect share as much as 34 percent of the total cost of a grant. Tribal Treasurer Chuck Jacobs said this was money the tribe simply did not have. He said recent negotiations with the BIA were promising and thus the council moved to accept the grant.

The council also voted to fire the top three public safety officials - Executive Director William Brewer, Chief of Police Barney White Face and Captain of Police Austin Watkins.

The council appointed Art Hopkins, a long-time public safety officer from the Medicine Root District to replace Brewer. Hopkins tapped veteran police officer Charles Cummings from LaCreek District as new chief of police. As of April 20, Hopkins had not appointed a new captain of police.

The council also discussed the propriety of a series of contract buyouts among top Public Safety officials. Following a tip that sizable checks were being issued by the department accounting office around mid-March, Councilmen Gerald "Jump" Big Crow and Manuel Fool Head questioned the payroll officer. They were informed that William "Shorty" Brewer and Barney White Face each received a checks for the balance of their contracts and each also allegedly were paid for accrued annual leave and sick leave.

Fool Head called the move highly unusual, particularly since the men continued to work at Public Safety without notifying the council of the buyouts. Tribal Attorney General Richard Erie has requested a subpoena of all financial records for the department.

Continued unrest

Tensions between the council and a group calling itself the Grass Roots Oyate remained at a high state April 19, when the group held a rally in the Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge. The group has occupied the tribe's Red Cloud Building since Jan.16.

With a crowd ranging anywhere from 100 to 150 people, according to one eyewitness, Grass Roots organizers installed what they say is a new, traditional, "General Council" for the tribe. Grass Roots spokesman Dale Looks Twice said the general council has taken the position and authority of the OST Tribal Council. One of the first resolutions passed by the "General Council" was to remove newly appointed Attorney General Richard Erie.

Anticipating unrest surrounding the meeting, Tribal Vice Chairman Wilbur Between Lodges granted administrative leave to employees of the tribe's Fiscal Accounting Office in the basement of the Billy Mills Hall. Joe American Horse, a spokesman for the vice chairman's office said the move was made for safety reasons. Chief Judge Patrick Lee at the tribal courthouse made a similar move.

"At around 3 p.m. around 30 of them - they called themselves Akicita - came charging into Wilbur's office. They were really making a lot of fuss and they said they wanted Richard Erie," American Horse said. "I told them he wasn't here, but they kept looking anyway. It was a pretty angry situation, so I left."

KILI Radio coming under fire

On April 18, a representative of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) met for nearly two hours with council members. The session included a conference call with FCC Chairman William Kennard. The council made the chairman aware of more than 30 hours of taped broadcast on KILI radio. They said the recordings included public threats by members of the Grass Roots Oyate against members of the tribal council.

"The FCC chairman took our charges very seriously" said Councilman Craig Dillon. "He told us to give the tapes to his representative and he would get back to us within a week."

Dillon said other problems with KILI radio were brought up as well, including the lack of regular directors meetings and a question of whether KILI had a protocol on what could be aired over the station.