By Deb Murphy
Press releases issued by the Bishop Paiute Tribe and the Inyo County District Attorney’s office regarding the arrest of a tribal law enforcement officer may have raised more questions than they answered.
Daniel Johnson was arrested in early January for what appeared to be doing his job detaining a person for violation of tribal and state court orders to “have no contact with a tribal member.” But, like life, nothing’s ever that simple.
The facts of the case, according to Sheriff Bill Lutze are: Johnson responded to a call on Dec. 24 and requested assistance from the Sheriff’s Department. When county officers arrived at the scene, Johnson had, allegedly, used a stun gun on the individual, removed her from a vehicle and put her in his squad car. The subject filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Department; following an investigation, the case was reviewed by the DA and three felony and one misdemeanor charges were filed.
“Tribal enforcement officers only have the authority to enforce tribal ordinances,” Lutze said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “This is not a sovereignty issue. We’re working our issues out.”
According to District Attorney Tom Hardy, the fact that Johnson was enforcing a tribal order was “generally not relevant. The amount and type of force in taking action is relevant.”
Hardy went on to say that “tribal orders are civil in nature” and violators can only be issued citations for failure to comply. Hardy emphasized that Johnson was presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
Public Law 280, passed by Congress and in effect since 1952, gives six states’, including California, law enforcement agencies the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute cases arising from actions within reservation boundaries.
The Bishop Paiute Tribe’s press release expressed its continued support of Johnson. Calls to Tribal administrators were referred to the Tribal chairman. His comments will be reported by Sierra Wave Media.