Updated: Dec 12, 2021
By Frank Zufall
Sawyer County Record
and Joe Morey
LCO News Editor
Sawyer County Board will Vote on Agreement at Meeting on Dec. 16th
The Sawyer County Public Safety Committee (SCPSC) and the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (LCOTGB) have created an option for saving a $48,887 County/Tribal Law Enforcement Assistance Grant by creating a joint drug task force.
With a 3-0 vote, with two abstaining, on Monday, Dec. 6 the LCOTGB approved a proposal from the Public Safety Committee to use the $48,887 for a joint drug task force between Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office and the LCO Police Department.
Now it is up to the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors (SCBOS) to approve a new agreement at its monthly meeting on Dec. 16.
The state has told both parties that an agreement has to be reached by Dec. 17 or the dollars will not be released.
The County/Tribal Law Enforcement Grant is derived from gaming compact dollars paid to the state by tribes from casino revenue. The dollars are released when the county and tribe agree on how the dollars are used and a cooperative agreement is signed.
For years, the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department has used the grant dollars to subsidize a county deputy working primarily on the reservation.
In 2020, the LCOTGB insisted that as a condition of the 2021 agreement that all non-criminal cases, mostly traffic citations, be heard and adjudicated in tribal court, pertaining to both tribal and non-tribal members.
The county agreed to the LCOTGB conditions, but over the next year of the 61 traffic citations on the reservation only five were referred to tribal court.
When it came to discussing the 2022 agreement, the county wanted to remove language in the 2021 agreement that required an appearance before the tribal court for both tribal and non-tribal members for non-criminal cases and replace it with “the appropriate court of jurisdiction,” which would result in non-tribal members appearing before circuit court instead of tribal court.
However, the LCOTGB insisted on keeping the language of the 2021 agreement in place that would still require both tribal and non-tribal members to appear in tribal court for non-criminal cases on the reservation.
Reportedly, non-tribal members from outside the reservation took issue with being ordered to appear in tribal court and expressed their concerns, which resulted in the proposed amendments to the new agreement, which would direct tribal member only to tribal court.
In discussions during the Nov. 9 SCBOS meeting and recent Dec. 2 SCPSC meeting there was no support of a legal reason or theory, such as legal jurisdiction, driving the revision of the 2021 agreement.
However, Sheriff Doug Mrotek did mention on Dec. 2 he thought there was good legal reason for removing it but he didn’t explain.
At a recent LCOTGB meeting that Sheriff Mrotek attended, when questioned why the agreement was being changed, Mrotek said the SCPSC had concerns that laws may be violated or constitutional rights infringed upon by directing non-tribal members into tribal court.
However, Supervisor James Schlender, chair of the SCPSC and a lawyer and former tribal judge, questioned on Nov. 9 why non-tribal members wouldn’t be comfortable being in a tribal court when they would have no apprehension with appearing in a court in a different state.
“We have citizens who want to travel on tribal roads but don’t want to fall within their jurisdiction,” Schlender said.
Mrotek responded to a question from the Record for the change and replied, “The change with the 2022 Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreement is due to the legal opinion from our county legal counsel with regards to the transfer of court jurisdictions.”
On Nov. 9, the SCBOS tabled any vote on the agreement until representatives of the county – two supervisors and the county administrator – could hammer out an agreement with the LCOTGB by Nov. 12, the deadline.
Later, the deadline was extended to Nov. 30, but again no agreement was reached.
Dec. 2, SCPSC
Then at the Thursday, Dec. 2 SCPSC meeting it was announced the deadline had been extended once again by the grant coordinator to Dec. 17.
At the Dec. 2 meeting, it was noted that Schlender had resigned from the county board, and Supervisor Ron Buckholtz, vice chair, was then elected as the chair and led the meeting.
Sawyer County Chief Deputy Joe Sajdera said that there had been talks with LCO Police Chief Tim DeBrot and they both learned that the grant dollars do not have to be specifically used to subsidize a deputy, and an idea emerged to use the dollars for a “special law enforcement details on the rez (reservation) with joint cooperation with the LCO Police Department.”
Sajdera said members of both departments would work on the special details in lieu of “one specific deputy working on the reservation.”
County Chair Tweed Shuman, who is also a member of the LCOTGB, said the proposal would be presented before the LCOTGB on Monday, Dec. 6 with the hope it would approved and then it would come back to the SCBOS on Dec. 16.
Shuman asked the SCPSC to recommend approval for the full board. However, there was no written proposal before the committee to approve.
Supervisor Dale Schleeter said he thought the “stumbling block” with the proposed agreement was over the issue of who was to goes to tribal court.
“Well the thought is we would use the grant differently with a joint drug, traffic initiatives on the reservation,” said Shuman, “so we would take out the jurisdictional issue and non-criminal civil traffic tickets going to tribal court.”
Supervisor Chuck Van Etten questioned why wouldn’t the tribe still have an issue with the jurisdiction issue.
Sheriff Mrotek said if the LCO Police Department is present during a joint operation it can issue the civil citation.
However, there was not mention of what would happen if the LCO Police cited a non-tribal member.
Sheriff Mrotek said his office had spent considerable time working on the agreement, calling it “time consuming,” and noted the process was now dependent on the LCOTGB to “meet and approve this expeditiously, so this process can move forward.”
Schleeter said the reason the discussion was still ongoing was the “extreme lack of cooperation” from the LCOTGB, a description Shuman rejected.
Mrotek said the proposed agreement should remove the jurisdictional issue.
“Citations issued by us will not go to tribal court,” said Mrotek.
Schleeter said he was confused why the LCOTGB would agree if the jurisdictional issue isn’t addressed as they required in the 2021 agreement.
Van Etten said the charges would be separated out by who was citing the offense, with civil citations on the reservation generated by LCO Police and thus heard in tribal court.
Schleeter said he was “uncomfortable” with granting a recommendation on a proposal that had not been put in writing.
Instead, Schleeter proposed just providing an agenda item for where the agreement could be discussed.
“I think a recommendation from this committee is misleading because we don’t know what the document says,” said Schleeter.
Sheriff Mrotek suggested the committee vote on supporting the concept of a joint drug task force.
Administrator Hoff said there have been times when the official resolution is generated after a vote by a committee.
Schleeter said he would feel more comfortable sending it to the board without a recommendation and the full committee agreed.
Monday, Dec. 6, LCOTGB
According to the LCO Legal Department, the new proposal scraps the idea of a County/Tribal Deputy and replaces it with a Joint Drug Task Force between the two agencies, LCO Police and the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office.
The LCO TGB met Monday morning, Dec. 6, and passed the new proposal with a vote of 3-0-2. Voting in favor were Vice Chairwoman Lorraine Gouge, members Glenda Barber and Michelle Beaudin.
Abstaining from the vote were LCO Secretary-Treasurer, Tweed Shuman and member Gary “Little Guy” Clause. Shuman also serves as the Sawyer County Board Chairman and abstained because of holding that position. Clause abstained because he said he still had unanswered questions about the new agreement.
LCO Legal representatives said the new task force would act as an ad hoc committee to act on work assigned to it by the Joint agencies. The capacity to set up the task force would also be to the discretion of LCO Police Chief Tim DeBrot, and Sheriff Doug Mrotek.
LCO Chairman Louis Taylor questioned whether the tribe would have the ability to insure the new agreement is “cooperative” in this new format.
“How do we know that it won’t be six sheriff’s deputies responding to an incident and not any of our officers,” Taylor questioned.
Taylor also asked if this is simply the same as what has already been disagreed upon just in different wording. He added he is concerned about who actually investigates complaints on the reservation and who gets the responding officers together.
LCO Legal said it would be up to Chief DeBrot to make sure LCO is included.
The main change to the previous agreement that swayed the TGB to vote in favor was the addition that as a joint task force the LCO Police Department would be able to invoice the Sheriff’s Department for reimbursement for any time that LCO Police has into the task force. In this format, the grant funds would be shared between the agencies.
Chief DeBrot confirmed this and added that it is similar to what his department does when working with the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative, an inter-agency task force that works on area tribal reservations.
The LCO Legal Department stated these changes will work for both parties. It was also recommended the tribe and county start discussions on next year’s grant early on, for example, in July if the deadline is in November.
Chairman Taylor added both parties need to be in discussions early on, rather than the LCOTGB receiving a proposed county agreement only a week before the deadline.
Little Guy said he would like to see next year’s agreement be aimed at youth justice programs such as DARE.
Legal said the new agreement takes on the drug problem. “This is an action to address the drug problem that affects all of us, after all, this is a nationwide problem.”
In regards to the previous agreement assigning citations issued on the reservation, the LCO Legal Department representatives said this is still in effect and that an agreement isn’t needed to insure this happens.
It was stated LCO Police need to continue being on site during traffic stops on the Reservation and those citations will be issued in Tribal Court.