Sheriff, Yurok Tribe at odds over pact

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate November 18, 2013 04:20 pm

Wilson calls halt to training, orders extra Klamath-area patrols

Del Norte County sheriff’s deputies have been spending more time in Klamath lately, said Sheriff Dean Wilson.

Over the past four months, the Sheriff’s Office has been transitioning into a more service-
oriented role just north of the Klamath River.

That’s because of a breakdown in a longstanding agreement between the Yurok Tribe and the Sheriff’s Office in providing training to tribal officers that allows them to enforce state law in exchange for a $50,000 annual payment, Wilson said.

The original agreement, struck in 2006, was to have the tribe provide an extra dispatcher for the Sheriff’s Office, Wilson said.

“They never could get anybody to pass the basic entrance test,” said Wilson. 

So after a year, the tribe began paying the Sheriff’s Office for training of its officers, Wilson said.

“Then all of the sudden, they stopped paying,” said Wilson.

It’s approaching four years since the tribe stopped paying the Sheriff’s Office for its training, Wilson said, adding he stopped the training recently. 

The tribe’s stance was that since its officers were performing law enforcement services in Klamath then the Sheriff’s Office “should be happy with that,” Wilson said.

Calls made to the Yurok Tribe and Tribal Police were not returned, and Tribal Council Chairman Thomas O’Rourke did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

In addition to training, the Sheriff’s Office provides the Yurok Tribal Police with call dispatching  — a service that remains.

However, sheriff’s deputies are now responding to all non-emergency calls for service, Wilson said.

This includes cold crimes —  for example, a car burglary that has been discovered hours after the theft.

Responding to such calls in Klamath is placing a strain on a Sheriff’s Office that is already dealing with limited patrol resources, especially on those shifts with only a couple deputies on duty, Wilson said.

“You’re not centrally located anymore,” said Wilson. “It’s hard to respond quickly if you’ve got a call.”

The sheriff is also concerned with the potential impact of a Yurok casino scheduled to open next year.

“As they expand their operations down there and Klamath becomes bigger, that’s going to be much more of a problematic area,” said Wilson. “Those types of locations tend to have higher volume for calls.”

The Yurok Tribal Police Department is still being called upon to respond to crimes in progress, but only two of its officers are capable of doing so because they are the only ones who are currently cross-deputized, Wilson said.

Unless tribal officers are deputized by a state law enforcement agency, they are only capable of enforcing tribal and federal codes, Wilson said.

The Sheriff’s Office has also shifted away from utilizing the Tribal Police because it has consistently failed to forward police reports to the Sheriff’s Office, an obligation outlined in the tribe’s memorandum of understanding with the Sheriff’s Office, Wilson said.

“It has caused situations where we’ve had several crimes that haven’t been appropriately handled,” said Wilson.

He cited stolen property that hasn’t been entered into the system and notifications that have never been given in domestic violence and child abuse cases.

In other instances, Klamath residents have called the Sheriff’s Office inquiring about a case to which his staff does not have an answer due to missing reports, Wilson said.

“Those are the problems that come when we don’t know what an agency is doing in our name,” said Wilson. “They’re doing so under our authority and yet we’re not getting our information and part of that problem is the fact they’ve had so many administrators in a small amount of time.”

Since Wilson was elected sheriff in 2002, he’s dealt with nine tribal police chiefs.

Former police chief Mary McQuillen was forced from her post after she refused to bow to Yurok Tribal Council pressure for diverting her focus toward certain areas in what she deemed irresponsible and impossible with the resources she had as she told the Triplicate in August following her immediate firing.word glitch

The Tribal Council refused to provide a comment for that article as well.

Leonard Masten was then appointed interim chief. He is the husband of Tribal Council vice-chairperson Susan Masten.

“Right now the communication, cooperation and coordination between our office and the tribe has been problematic at best,” said Wilson. “And the community doesn’t need that.”

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