Mille Lacs Messenger
By: Vivian LaMoore
A court order issued by Mille Lacs County District Court Judge Sarah H. Hennesy on Aug. 17 states Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police have “the power of a law enforcement agency and jurisdiction to enforce the laws of this state in the geographical boundaries of the property held by the United States in trust for the Mille Lacs Band.”
The 12-page order further evaluates the Minnesota Statute 626.90. Judge Hennesy concluded, “under the plain language of the statute then, even without a cooperative agreement, the Mille Lacs Band has the powers of a law enforcement agency and concurrent jurisdictional authority with the Mille Lacs County sheriff if the four requirements are met under the three circumstances listed in paragraph (c).” (See below.)
Summary of the four requirements are: 1) the Band agrees to be subject to liability for its torts and those of its officers, employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment or duties..., 2) the Band files with the Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training a bond or certificate of insurance for liability coverage..., 3) the Band files with the POST board a certificate of insurance for liability of law enforcement officers, employees and agents for lawsuits..., and 4) the Band agrees to comply with the laws of the state relating to data practices.
The three circumstances are: 1) over all persons in the geographical boundaries of the property held by the United States in trust; 2) over all Minnesota Chippewa tribal members within the boundaries of the 1855 treaty and 3) “concurrent jurisdiction over any person who commits or attempts to commit a crime in the presence of an appointed Band peace officer within the boundaries of the Treaty of Feb. 22, 1855.”
By issue of the court order Judge Hennesy is satisfied those requirements are met by Tribal PD. “As a law enforcement agency, tribal police have the authority to arrest... Nothing in the language of Minnesota statute 626.90 makes these powers contingent upon the existence of a cooperative agreement between the Mille Lacs Band and the Mille Lacs County Sheriff,” Judge Hennesy wrote.
The order by Judge Hennesy came about due to a motion filed by defense attorney Christopher B. Sailors in a felony drug possession case involving his client, Irwin James Sam. In summary, the defense filed a motion requesting the court suppress the search of Sam and requested the case be dismissed.
Sam was arrested and charged with felony fifth-degree drug possession on May 19 of this year at Grand Casino Mille Lacs, clearly within the boundaries of Mille Lacs Band trust land.
The defense argued that tribal PD did not have the power of a law enforcement agency if they do not have a cooperative agreement with the county sheriff’s office. Defense also argued Tribal PD did not have the jurisdictional authority to search and arrest Sam.
The Mille Lacs County Attorney’s office subsequently filed a motion stating the officers in the case, two Tribal PD and one county deputy, did lawfully search Sam and had probable cause to arrest him for controlled substance crime. They also stated the Tribal PD officers were “appropriately investigating a violation of Mille Lacs Band Statutes pursuant to inherent Tribal criminal authority.” County attorney Joe Walsh stated, “When a violation of state law was discovered, the evidence and investigation were appropriately turned over to an officer with state law enforcement authority so that it may be prosecuted in state court.”
Judge Hennesy denied both motions filed by the defense.
In this case, the state, meaning the county attorney’s office, won the arguments for probable cause, and they won the argument that tribal PD does have jurisdiction. Yet Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh sent a letter to Judge Hennesy on Aug. 18 requesting her to “reconsider the Court’s Order dated Aug. 17,” stating “in absence of a cooperative agreement with the Mille Lacs County Sheriff, the Mille Lacs Band did not have the statutory powers of law enforcement agency.”
In his letter to Judge Hennesy, Walsh argues the language of the court order which in summary states Tribal PD has the powers of a law enforcement agency and concurrent jurisdictional enforcement authority within the boundaries of the trust land.
He stated, “clarity and full consideration of this issue is of utmost importance to a smoothly functioning criminal justice system in Mille Lacs County.”
The Messenger did reach out to Judge Hennesy and was provided with the following statement from: “The Code of Judicial Conduct – in the interest of preserving the fairness and impartiality of our courts – includes several sections providing specific prohibitions on judges and court staff making public comments (outside of the official court record) regarding pending and impending cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court. Given this is still a pending case before the court, Judge Hennesy is unable to provide comment on this matter. The order speaks for itself.”
The request to have the court order reconsidered was denied on Aug. 23. The case is scheduled for a plea hearing on Sept. 20 in Mille Lacs County District Court.