Law-enforcement agreement update: No accord as County, Band discussion stalls

Milaca – Mille Lacs County and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe remain at odds regarding the long-standing, cooperative law enforcement agreement that the county revoked this summer based on claims the band was in violation of it, while the band maintains that none of its actions breach the agreement.
Most recently, taxpayers at the county’s truth-in-taxation hearing Dec. 6 grilled the board members and officials about the agreement and how much not having one in place is costing the county (see related story this issue). The county continues to beef up sheriff’s resources in an effort to cover the territory previously patrolled under the agreement by tribal police.
While the mutual-aid document provides for all the intricacies of law enforcement and crime prosecution, the most basic and prominent disagreement of all still seems to be how the two interests view land boundaries. Generally, the band sees its boundaries as the 60,000 acres agreed upon in the Treaty of 1855. Due to various ownership issues and subsequent treaties and agreements, the county sees tribal land as the 4,000 acres held in trust by the federal government.
According to state law, the tribal police force derives its authority from an agreement with the county sheriff’s office, and it operates under the sheriff’s licensure and liability insurance.
According to Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh, Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Solicitor General Todd Matha, negotiations have continued since July when the revocation took effect but have not produced a new agreement. Five meetings have taken place, multiple emails and letters have been exchanged and both the county and the band have each presented and rejected one draft of a new agreement.
The county sent a proposed agreement to the band in September. The band responded in mid-October that parts of it were “offensive to the band,” and it countered with a modified version of the previous cooperative agreement, which the county rejected in late October.
Matha responded to the county after its draft: “Many of the provisions in the proposed agreement are outside the purpose and scope of a cooperative law enforcement agreement under Minn. Stat. 626.90; would require the band to refrain from exercising its inherent sovereign authority (civil as well as criminal); would lessen the availability of law enforcement services to band and non-band members; would subordinate the band’s police officers to the county sheriff; and, would restrict the band’s ability to engage in intergovernmental relationships with the federal and state governments. Many of these provisions are not only inconsistent with the band’s inherent rights and responsibilities, but are offensive to the band. For these and other reasons, the band’s leadership has concluded that the proposed agreement is unacceptable and does not provide a basis for productive negotiations.”
Walsh said in response to questions, “The Mille Lacs Band proposed a new agreement based upon the prior cooperative agreement with additional changes that did not address the county’s concerns and included greater authority for tribal officers to make arrests outside of tribal jurisdiction.”
Rough drafts differ
Walsh said the main sticking points from the county’s perspective are what it requires of the band: To comply with state audits as other law enforcement agencies must do, concede that the agreement pertains to public safety and not to boundary issues and to only exercise inherent tribal criminal authority on lands held in trust by the federal government.
The county’s version of the agreement asks other things of the tribe:
•Provide notice of search warrants executed to the Mille Lacs County sheriff.
•Place a tribal dispatcher in the sheriff’s office to assist in dispatching tribal officers.
•Supply cultural training to Mille Lacs County deputies.
•Notify the county attorney of all felonies, gross misdemeanors and DWIs investigated by the band.
•Develop a comprehensive procedure for conflict investigations.
•Give notice to the sheriff and the county attorney of all meetings with government partners discussing law enforcement in Mille Lacs County.
Matha said the tribal police still operate under a licensure agreement with Pine County, but in Mille Lacs County, tribal officers are basically relegated to the role of bystander unless the incident directly involves a band member inside the county-defined tribal boundaries.
Lindgren said in response to questions, “in order to ensure that law enforcement response times either remain the same or are improved throughout all of Mille Lacs County,” the county has shifted internal resources and has hired eight additional deputies – on the way to 10 more. He said the process to evaluate coverage and response times is ongoing.
The county’s reply to questions makes clear that without an agreement in place, in its eyes the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Police Department does not legally have the powers of a state-recognized law enforcement agency within Mille Lacs County.
Matha said the band’s counter-agreement sought to address the issues of concern the county cited as reasons for revoking the agreement. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe sought an opinion from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which states that boundaries drawn in the Treaty of 1855 have not since been diminished. Matha said the intent of seeking the opinion was not to undermine county authority.
He said the federal authorities initiated a process available to the band under the Tribal Law and Order Act that essentially gives it some federal support in cases of heinous crime and serious activity such as gangs and drugs. He said the move did not diminish the county’s jurisdiction and was an attempt to have help with some of the worst crimes and criminals who “reservation hop” to evade authorities.
Matha said the way the band sees it, neither the opinion nor the Tribal Law and Order Act efforts displace state jurisdiction, they just add strength to it. He said the county perceived a violation of the cooperative law-enforcement agreement when an outside officer attended a powwow on reservation land.
Another of the county’s sticking points, said Matha, seems to be last year when the band police department approached the county to say it would seek a change in the state statute language that requires a joint powers agreement. The band requested that the wording be changed from “shall” to “may” (have an agreement) so that the rule is cooperative and optional instead of obligatory.
He said the mandatory rule probably made more sense in the 1980s when tribal police forces were much smaller, not trained as law officers and not “post-board certified.” Matha said the language adjustment would also prevent the county from threatening to revoke the agreement when something happens it doesn’t like. The law-language changes have not yet made it to the Legislature.
An article in the September issue of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s newsletter, “Inaajimowin,” states that the county refused an offer from a federal mediator to help forge a new agreement. Matha said it was actually a specialist in town helping with the Philando Castile shooting case who offered to help.
Walsh said the county declined that mediation because it had received misinformation from the federal Department of Justice; it instead recommends a mediator from the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services.