Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Feds Asked To Stop Ignoring Navajo Nation Extradition Laws
Navajo Proposes Extradition Changes
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – The federal government is ignoring Navajo Nation extradition laws and procedures, and Chief Prosecutor Bernadine Martin wants it to stop.
“I have told the federal government, ‘We are a sovereign nation. We have our people, we have our culture, our language and our laws, which we should follow. When I was sworn in on Sept. 2, my oath was to Navajo law, not the federal law. The oath of our law enforcement is to Navajo law.
“What we are trying to do is focus the attention back on the extradition procedures so defendants are treated fairly and are given notice and an opportunity for a hearing before they leave the Navajo Nation,” Martin told the Intergovernmental Relations Committee Monday.
The extradition law was passed by the Navajo Nation Council in 1978. In 1994, the solicitor of the Navajo Nation, who at the time was James W. Zion of Albuquerque, issued an opinion that outlined the procedures for extradition, but in recent times, no one has been following the procedure, she said.
Churchrock Delegate Ernest Yazzie Jr. is sponsoring legislation urging the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to respect and comply with Navajo extradition laws and procedures. The legislation was on IGR’s agenda, however, Yazzie was not present at the time it came up so it was not considered.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Kee Allen Begay said the legislation is important because “outside agencies need to know how we do business.” He asked that the agenda be amended so Martin could present her report. The request was approved 7-2.
In the first month after she was sworn in as chief prosecutor, Martin fought extradition against the federal government on a Navajo defendant in a homicide case. She said it was not intended to challenge federal jurisdiction, because it was clear the federal government had jurisdiction. “It was the way it was handled that I had issues with.”
What the federal government was doing was coming to the Nation and “badging out” Navajo defendants, she said.
“They would put defendants in our jail and not charge them with anything. They were just sitting in our jail; they don’t know why. On their logs they put like ‘federal custody,’ yet they were never charged with a crime and they were held for days and days. In one incident, a defendant was held for 29 days without having been charged.
“But the case I want to focus on, which brought my attention to the issue again, was the Reehahlio Carroll case. He was accused of killing a nun,” she said.
Carroll was accused in the beating death of 64-year-old Sister Marguerite Bartz, who died sometime around midnight on Halloween at her home in Navajo, N.M., where she served at St. Berard’s Mission Church.
He was arrested Nov. 4 on a reckless driving charge and charged in Window Rock tribal court for reckless driving. Because of the nature of the driving offense, he was considered a threat to the community, a motion was filed to deny bail, and Martin said they received a hearing notice for Nov. 5.
“At that time I had no information that he was a suspect in that murder which had occurred in the early hours of Nov. 1. The federal government never came and talked to me; never said, ‘We have a suspect and we want him extradited.’
“Communications went on between law enforcement and the federal government – and I refused to turn him over. I said, ‘You have to give me notice, we have to have the complaint and the affidavit so we can file an extradition petition, and we can submit the request to the president, who has the authority to sign orders of extradition.’ They didn’t give it to me.”
Martin said she intervened in the federal court case and told the judge what happened, “because what it effectively did was put one sovereign government – ours – against the federal government – another sovereign – which should never happen.”
“In 1967, the chairman of the Navajo Nation Council had made a statement into law … It says every accused Navajo Indian is entitled to a hearing and no police can turn over a defendant without having had a hearing. That has been violated time after time after time over recent years, and we don’t want to do that any longer.”
The Government Services Committee also passed a resolution on July 15, 2008, recognizing that the Office of the Chief Prosecutor is a lead criminal justice executive of the Navajo Nation for all purposes and responsibilities, Martin said.
“Extradition is a responsibility of the chief prosecutor, and I want to ensure that all defendants of Navajo descent are entitled to every right that the law gives them.”
She asked that the Navajo Nation approve the legislation “because we no longer need the federal government to speak for us.” The people have the Navajo Nation Council, the chief justice, and the president as agents to speak for them, she said. “We don’t want the federal government coming here and making our decisions for us, especially in this area.”
IGR accepted the report 9-0.