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Tribe Opposes New Law Enforcement Agreement

By Joe Morey

News Editor

Sawyer County Board Meeting Nov. 9

The LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) stood together on Tuesday, Nov. 9, in opposition of proposed amendments to the annual Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreement, which provides for funding of a part-time deputy of the sheriff’s department to enforce the laws of the county and the state working within the tribe’s reservation, along with the laws of the tribe.


The Agreement has a deadline of Friday, Nov. 12, to be signed by both parties, the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department and the Tribe, and if not signed, the sheriff’s department will forfeit a $48,887 grant from the state of Wisconsin, which comes from the gaming compact dollars paid to the state by the Tribe from casino revenues.


In the 2021 Agreement, a change was made that would mandate all non-criminal citations to be referred to Tribal Law Enforcement to be filed in Tribal Court. This would include whether the offender is tribal member or non-tribal member.


During a meeting between Sheriff Doug Mrotek and TGB on Tuesday, the sheriff indicated that there had been 61 traffic citations on the Reservation in the past year and yet, only five of those had been referred to Tribal Court.


At question in the proposed 2022 Agreement is the removal of this requirement and changed to state any non-Tribal persons cited on the Reservation would be issued in Sawyer County Circuit Court. The new Agreement reads citations will be issued into ‘the appropriate court of jurisdiction.’


After meeting with the sheriff, the TGB in discussion decided they would only support signing the same agreement from the previous year, despite the fact that most citations are yet to be referred to Tribal Court.


The 2021 Agreement was signed by all parties after the Tribe had pushed for enforcement of the non-criminal citations being issued in Tribal Court with an amendment that read, “The Parties agree that referrals may not be able to be made to the tribal court in two specific instances related to civil violations accompanying criminal violations and a first OWI. If a civil violation accompanies a criminal violation, that matter may be sent to County Court, if reasonably necessary to accompany criminal violations. Also, in relation to a first OWI, if a Tribal Officer is not available to handle the referral at the time of the stop, the matter may be sent to Sawyer County Court. Both of these exceptions shall not impair the offender’s ability to request a transfer to tribal court for any civil violation, including a first OWI. As used in this Agreement, the "Tribe's Reservation" refers to the territory described in Article I, Section 1 of the Amended Constitution and Bylaws of the Tribe, in addition to all other land that qualifies as Indian country pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1151.”


Going forward, to satisfy the Agreement, whenever a County Deputy does a traffic stop on the LCO Reservation, he will be required to call for an LCO Police Officer to respond and take over jurisdiction of the traffic stop, unless the traffic stop would fall under the amendment listed above.


LCO TGB member Gary “Little Guy” Clause said in March of this year that he urges all Tribal Members to make sure an LCO Police Officer is on scene when they are stopped by a County Deputy on the Reservation. He noted this will insure that all traffic and non-felony citations will be heard in LCO Tribal Court.


The current agreement mandates all non-criminal citations will be referred to Tribal Law Enforcement to be filed in Tribal Court. This would include whether the offender is tribal member or non-tribal member, but 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 only have Tribal Members directed to Tribal Court.


TGB Member Michelle Beaudin stated that all citations issued, no matter if they are tribal members or non-members, should be in tribal court if they are issued on the reservation.

The proposed Agreement with amendments was on the agenda for the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday night, Nov. 9, but was tabled for now with a motion to support two Supervisors, Ronald Buckholz and Dale Schleeter, along with County Administrator Tom Hoff, to meet with two TGB Members immediately to see if they can hammer out an agreement before the deadline on Friday. The vote was approved 9-5.


At the County Board meeting, Supervisor James Schlender Jr, noted it is still the responsibility of the sheriff’s department to provide services to the Tribe with or without the agreement and Sheriff Mrotek agreed.


Schlender stated that he was surprised there are concerns by citizens with the issue of being cited in Tribal Court.


“There is a problem with being haled into Tribal Court, but when you are in Minnesota, you are haled into their court without a problem. You follow the rules of the jurisdiction you are in,” Schlender stated. He went on to use a comparison by stating it’s like if you went to someone else’s house and insisted on your rules for their house.


“We have citizens who want to travel tribal roads but don’t want to fall within their jurisdiction,” Schlender said. He also added that the Cooperative Agreement as it is called isn’t very “Cooperative.”


In meeting with the TGB following their meeting with the sheriff, Brian Bisonette also used a comparison explaining it as if a non-Tribal was speeding through the community of Skunawong, “It’s our people in our community you are jeopardizing, so why wouldn’t we enforce the citation in our jurisdiction regardless if you are Tribal or non-Tribal.”


Meeting between Sheriff and TGB


At the meeting between the Sheriff and TGB, LCO Chairman Louis Taylor expressed concerns with the sheriff and said he doesn’t support signing the agreement with the county’s proposed amendments. Taylor added that he was concerned about there being no specific deputy assigned to the Tribe like there used to be fifteen years ago. The sheriff had indicated in the past that the grant which has been around $50,000 annually in recent years wasn’t enough to support hiring a full-time deputy with salary and equipment costs.


The sheriff indicated that while costs have gone up, the grant has decreased through the years, when it started out 25 years ago, it was over $100,000.


Bisonette asked the sheriff who made new amendment to the Agreement and the sheriff indicated that the county’s Public Safety Committee had concerns that laws may be violated or constitutional rights infringed upon by directing non-Tribals into Tribal Court. The Tribe’s attorney, Dylan Linehan said that is why in the Agreement it stated to call an LCO Police Officer to the scene to take over the process.


Chairman Taylor expressed his concerns that a County Attorney works on this Agreement and makes changes to forward to the County rather than her working with our people to discuss the Agreement and these changes. Taylor said the TGB members were just shown the proposed Agreement that morning and had no time to review it.


Taylor asked Sheriff Mrotek what he thought of the Agreement and if he supported signing it. Mrotek said he wants to sign it because it is an honor and a privilege working with the Tribe.

“It’s the spirit of the Agreement to make sure the sheriff’s department and the Tribe are working together,” Mrotek stated.


Mrotek said he talks often with LCO Police Chief Tim DeBrot while working together sometimes for a minute or two, sometimes much longer. He also said he believes his deputies and LCO officers work exceptionally well together in the field.


Mrotek indicated that the Covid Pandemic has played a role in much of the disconnect between the two parties because formal meetings weren’t held very often.


Following the meeting with the sheriff, the TGB all agreed that they support leaving the Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreement as it was for 2021 without any changes.


TGB Member Don Carley suggested last year’s agreement was good for the Tribe but this year we need to work on having it enforced.


Mrotek had told the TGB that a full-time deputy specifically assigned to the Reservation would cost over $100,000 with wages and equipment costs, so another suggestion made was that the grant money be used to support half that cost with the County and the Tribe splitting the difference. This would solve the Tribe’s concerns so that the specific deputy would be able to write citations into Tribal Court.


Last Year’s Agreement


The 2021 Agreement states the county-tribe deputy will “Work closely with members of the tribe’s law enforcement department to deter and solve crime on the tribe’s reservation. The size and unique nature of the Sawyer County, the grant of jurisdiction under Public Law 280, staffing and funding limitations of the sheriff’s office and the tribe’s law enforcement department and increased crime all justify continued funding of the program.”


It goes on to note, “The Tribe and the Sheriff’s Office have identified increased youth crime rates, methamphetamine abuse, heroin abuse, opioid abuse, alcohol and other drug abuse, domestic violence and gang related activity as some of the most urgent law enforcement problems within the Tribe's Reservation.”


Despite numerous examples of the County and Tribe working together in law enforcement, such as drug enforcement, an arson investigation and the search for a missing person, the agreement states, “However, even with these types of activities, drug activity continues to be most significant in Sawyer County and on the Tribe’s Reservation. With on-going arrests and joint investigations, the drug abuse, most significantly methamphetamine and opioid abuse in Sawyer County continues to grow at an alarming rate. The County-Tribe Deputies will continue to serve an important role in deterring and addressing these activities. In 2020 to date, there have been twelve (12) drug related deaths in Sawyer County. The heroin and methamphetamine epidemic in Sawyer County remain a significant problem in Sawyer County and on the LCO Reservation.”


The funds are allocated from the state Department of Justice. TGB member Tweed Shuman said the DOJ funds come from the gaming compact dollars and that Tribes are able to give input on the amount and the use.


Mrotek told the TGB that the sheriff’s department does their best to schedule the tribal deputy when the LCO Police Department doesn’t have an officer scheduled.


“Unfortunately, sometimes the schedule changes and there are times when neither, the LCO PD or the sheriff’s department has anyone scheduled,” Mrotek explained. “During those times our patrol lieutenant does his best to make sure a deputy is on the reservation unless an emergency situation occurs elsewhere in the county. We do our best to work around the issues.”


Mrotek also explained that the sheriff’s department assists the LCO PD when they need them as well as the other way around, the LCO PD will come off reservation and assist the sheriff’s department when needed.


LCO Tribal Attorney Dyllan Linehan said last year the tribal court is hearing from a number of tribal members that are ending up in the Sawyer County Court rather than LCO Tribal Court with their citations. Linehan said LCO can fill out a petition on behalf of tribal members to transfer the case from county to tribal court, but only 1 out of 100 people know they can have that done.


“If we are paying this money for this cooperative agreement, then why is this not being done,” Linehan questioned the sheriff regarding the citations going through tribal court. “I don’t think I’ve seen one case out here that wasn’t a transfer.”


Linehan noted that the tribe is paying $51,000 annually for this agreement and yet all the citation revenues are going straight to the state and not being shared with the Tribe. The revenue from citations issued on the reservation could raise revenue for the Tribe, he concluded.