Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - About 40 people gathered Tuesday night at Stone Child College to ask questions about a variety of law enforcement issues on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Attendees addressed law enforcement officials on how to fight drug and alcohol abuse among teens and adults, how to improve communication between tribal and federal officials, and how to find out more about the investigation of the June murder of a Box Elder man.
U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer is meeting with tribal members along the Hi-Line to talk about reducing drug use and trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence and sex crimes as well as foster a better working relationship between tribal officials and the federal government. Mercer, assistant U.S. attorney Lori Suek and FBI agent Ernie Weyand, who supervises the Havre, Billings and Glasgow offices, addressed the group and answered questions.
Mercer said he was pleased with the exchange.
"I thought it was a good cross-section of people," he said. "I liked the questions. Folks here are really committed to a partnership in public safety."
One of the major topics of discussion was the question of who has jurisdiction when responding to calls on tribal land. Suek said the federal government prosecutes 14 different crimes on reservations, including homicide and other violent crimes, major property crimes, drugs and sex crimes. Misdemeanors or crimes the federal government decides not to prosecute can be pursued in tribal court.
Several people questioned the amount of communication between federal law enforcement and tribal officials, asking if there are agreements in place to ensure that crimes are prosecuted fully. Mercer responded by saying the communication has improved greatly over the last decade.
"There is good general knowledge in the law enforcement community of who is going to prosecute what cases," Mercer said. "If we are not going to prosecute a particular case, for whatever reason, we will inform the tribal prosecutor."
Audience members said there has sometimes been confusion among law enforcement agencies about which should respond in particular cases. One woman said there have been questions over who can respond to Box Elder School.
Suek said the question of which agency has the ability to investigate a particular case can be sorted out at a later date, but that law enforcement must respond when there is an emergency call.
One audience member questioned why federal officials have been secretive in the case of Alton "Muck-Tune" Boyd Alexander, a Box Elder man who was killed June 18. In October, family members said FBI agents had told them four juvenile suspects were being held on unrelated charges. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office have repeatedly refused to respond to media questions about the case.
Mercer and Suek told the crowd that all juvenile cases are sealed by federal law. Juveniles can only be held in custody for 30 days once indictments are issued by a grand jury before the matter must be taken to trial, Mercer added. He said federal prosecutors generally wait until lab tests are completed and the investigation is finalized before pursuing indictments.
Suek said people can assume a certain case involves juveniles if the flow of information stops.
"It can be very frustrating, but unfortunately that is the federal statute," she said.
Mercer said he heard a lot of questions and comments about drug enforcement during his last visit to the reservation 18 months ago. His office has since stepped up its prosecution of drug crimes, he said.
Suek, who prosecutes cases on the Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap reservations, said the majority of her caseload is now focused on drugs, particularly meth.
"Methamphetamine has become a blight on north-central Montana," Suek said.
Tribal leaders and members said one of their largest concerns is the young people on the reservation. Tribal council Chairman John "Chance" Houle and council member Kelly Eagleman said they are looking at ways to hold talks with teenagers on the reservation to attempt to stop the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, which often begins at an early age. One member of the audience voiced concerns about preventing incidents like the March school shooting that occurred at a high school on the Ojibwe Reservation in Minnesota.
"We need to see what the kids are saying. We need to talk to them on their own level," Houle said.