Sixteen arrested in drug bust on Pine Ridge

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Sixteen people on the Pine Ridge Reservation have been
charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana and with the intent to
distribute the drugs.

The arrests, which came days after national news organizations ran stories
about drug trafficking on American Indian reservations, were not intended
to coincide with those articles, according to Paul McCabe, FBI spokesman
from the Minneapolis regional office.

Twelve were arrested in the village of Pine Ridge without incident. The
other four were already in federal or state custody.

Arrested were Geraldine Blue Bird; her son, Clarence Behan; Travis Elk Boy;
Colin Spotted Elk; Dawnee Frogg; Howard Blue Bird; Thomas Spotted Bear;
Flint Thomas Red Feather; Justin Hawk Wing; Sage Richards; Norton Richards;
Wenona Richards; Jody Richards; Jay Dee Spotted Elk; Joe Garcia and Rusty
Richards.

In December 2005, authorities were called to a Rapid City hotel to
investigate a complaint that the aroma of marijuana was coming from one or
two rooms.

When federal authorities and an officer from the Rapid City Police
Department arrived, they were given permission to enter the hotel room,
where they smelled marijuana smoke. They then observed a clear plastic
baggie of marijuana, according to court documents.

Blue Bird, who rented the room, was determined to have outstanding arrest
warrants. She also admitted to having cocaine in a jacket pocket, telling
officers it belonged to her son. When the officers let her in the room,
another woman, Jody Richards, picked up a sweater to put on and the
officers noticed a Tupperware container with a white substance on the bed.
They then sought a warrant.

In an adjoining room were two other people in Blue Bird's party, Norton
Richards and Wenona Richards. All four were arrested at the scene.

Authorities recovered more than $16,000 and one and one-half pounds of
cocaine from the rooms. Also confiscated were three revolvers and
ammunition, including an assault rifle magazine, according to court
documents.

Blue Bird was charged with possession of a firearm in connection with a
drug trafficking crime and seven other counts of drug-related offenses. Two
others, part of the dozen who were arrested, were also charged with
possession of a rifle in the act of drug trafficking.

All 16 defendants appeared in federal court in Rapid City and entered not
guilty pleas. No trial dates have been set.

Authorities said the shooting death of a 16-year-old in December 2005 at
Blue Bird's residence expedited the investigation.

Blue Bird became somewhat famous during President Clinton's visit to Pine
Ridge in 2000. She lived in a home in Pine Ridge with an attached trailer
that housed 28 people. Clinton sat on her porch and discussed jobs, housing
and other issues with her and family members.

She later received a new double-wide home, the result of a generous
out-of-state donor who read about her in the national media.

If convicted, she and the others could receive up to life in prison and a
$4 million fine. They will all be required to forfeit any drug-related
funds and property.

The arrests at Pine Ridge brought praise for the arresting officers. McCabe
said many stopped in a local restaurant and were greeted by locals with
pats on the back and congratulatory praise, thanking them and saying, "We
appreciate it -- get them out of here." He added that the case is still
under investigation and people may come forward with more information as
long as it remains open.

The national media has placed great emphasis on methamphetamine use and
distribution. In South Dakota, the drug has been a major source of concern
and discussion in the state Legislature, among local communities and law
enforcement agencies.

The arrests on Pine Ridge, however, did not involve crystal meth, McCabe
said.

"Meth is a problem. We've seen meth increase, but any drug is considered a
problem. Since meth is on the rise, not too many years ago, there has been
an increase in the traffic of any kind of drug," he said.

The Pine Ridge law enforcement is currently understaffed, with one officer
for every 1,000 people. At the end of March, a Community Oriented Policing
Services grant will expire and the force will be cut by 58 offices --
roughly in half. That will leave one officer for every 2,000 people.

In order to investigate and carry out any type of arrest, a "force
multiplier" is put into place, McCabe said. That means other agencies work
together to create a greater number of officers and agencies to aid in the
investigations.

"Law enforcement in general, throughout the country, is under a budget
constraint. That's why the force multiplier is used to bring in all the
expertise and intelligence together. That's an important piece for
maintaining safety, on or off the reservations.

"Indian country matters are a high priority. A great deal of the manpower
in Minneapolis involved crimes on reservations," he said.

The FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Unified
Narcotics Enforcement Team; the Rapid City Police Department; the Northern
Plains Safe Trails Task Force; and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of
Public Safety cooperated in the investigation and arrests.

The U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug
Enforcement Administration assisted in the arrests.