AG opinion: Councilor wrongly barred Phoenix video
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a Nov. 18 opinion, the tribe’s Attorney General’s Office stated Council Speaker Meredith Frailey wrongly denied the Cherokee Phoenix video coverage of a June public forum concerning the tribe’s planned takeover of W.W. Hastings Indians Hospital.
“The Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information and Right of Privacy Act of 2001 provides members of the public and the press with a statutory right to make sonic recordings at open meetings,” the opinion states. “Government employees and officials do not have the authority to restrict the tribal newspaper staff from making a video recording of a public meeting or forum unless the restriction is reasonable, narrowly tailored, advances a substantial government interest and does not obstruct other alternative forms of communication.”
Cherokee Phoenix staffer Craig Henry said Frailey told him he was not allowed to video record a June 26 public forum where tribal health officials, administration cabinet members and councilors answered questions from the public and discussed Cherokee Nation’s planned assumption of Hastings.
He said before the event Frailey asked CN Communications Officer Mike Miller and CN Leadership Group Leader Todd Enlow if they had set up the camera.
“They told her no, so she turned to me and said I had to take it down,” Henry said. “She told me they (she and forum co-sponsor Councilor Bradley Cobb) were not allowing anyone to record the meeting. She said they were afraid people would be reluctant to speak if there were cameras.”
Henry also said Frailey told him several other media outlets had inquired about video access and that they were denied.
“We considered this a public forum, and it was called primarily for the benefit of W.W. Hastings employees so they could learn and discuss freely the topics concerning the future of Hastings hospital,” Frailey said. “We felt that video taping such an event would have a rather chilling effect on the free flow of ideas and communications concerning the issues that arose.”
However, according to the opinion, “Members of the public may be unable, due to work or family commitments, to attend the forum on the date and time prescribed. Having a recording of the event available to the public allows a larger number of citizens to benefit from the public discourse. Many of the questions asked by members of the public at the forum may be questions of interest to all of the citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”
Jami Custer, the staff writer who covered the forum, said no audience comments were made during or after the officials’ presentation and that audience members wrote questions on paper and put them into a box.
The questions were later read by Cobb, who allowed officials to answer. She added that the only audience member who spoke during the forum did so to reiterate a question he wrote for the panel to answer.
Frailey said the forum’s original plan called for allowing public comments, but because the forum ran long, Cobb, who moderated the event, didn’t open it up for comments.
The two councilors sponsored the forum so the tribe’s negotiation team could publicly present an overview of the proceedings with Indian Health Service about the planned Hastings takeover from the IHS.
Secretary of State Melanie Knight said Cobb and Frailey were two of the four councilors designated by the council’s Health Committee who attended the negotiations.
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will meet at 9 a.m. CST, July 12, 2016, via conference call. It is an open meeting and the public is welcome to attend by using the conference call information to join the meeting. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2016/6/10415_7.12.16CherokeePhoenixEditorialBoardMeetingAgenda.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the agenda.
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WASHINGTON – National retailer Dollar General will have to go before a tribal court judge thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
On June 23, the Supreme Court announced it had deadlocked 4-4 in Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians vs. Dollar General, which raised the question of whether tribes have the authority to pursue civil litigation over the activities of non-Natives on tribal trust land. By virtue of the tie, the court upheld a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that sided with the tribe.
In 2003, a non-Native Dollar General manager allegedly sexually assaulted a 13-year-old Mississippi Choctaw boy who was working at the Dollar General store on the reservation through the tribe’s summer youth program. When the federal government declined to pursue criminal charges against the manager or company, the victim’s parents sued both the manager and the retailer in tribal court.
Despite signing a lease that required it to give the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ court system legal authority over it, Dollar General balked, claimed the tribe did not have jurisdiction and pursued litigation that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2015.
More than 100 tribes and Indigenous organizations filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in support of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, with many noting the potential implications for Indian Country’s domestic violence cases if the court sided with Dollar General. According to a recent study released by the National Institute of Justice, a supermajority of violent crimes against Native Americans – both male and female – are committed by non-Native assailants.
“Today’s decision reaffirms tribal sovereignty and the inherent civil authority of tribal courts to protect our citizens when non-Indians assault them,” Jana Walker, a senior attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center, said. “This is critical considering that a National Institute of Justice research report issued last month found that more than four in five Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, and more than one in two have experienced sexual violence.”
With the tie, the possibility remains for the Supreme Court to revisit the issue of tribal jurisdiction in the future, as the decision does not create a binding nationwide precedent.
“It is a reminder that more work is needed to educate lawyers, judges, and lawmakers about tribal sovereignty and the authority of tribal courts,” Walker said.
The case will now go back to tribal court. The family of the victim is seeking $2.5 million in damages.
In a statement released June 24, Principal Chief Bill John Baker praised the Supreme Court’s decision.
“As tribal sovereign governments, we applaud the Supreme Court’s preservation of our right to protect tribal citizens on tribal land,” he said. “The Cherokee Nation is taking critical steps to strengthen its ability to arrest, convict and prosecute people who commit crime in our jurisdiction and against our citizens.
“We also continue to strengthen our civil code to allow us to increase our exercise of civil jurisdiction over non-Indian people and companies who commit wrongs within the Cherokee Nation. This will better protect all of our citizens, including our most vulnerable, like the elderly, women, and children.”
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he set a fire five years ago that burned 142 acres of land belonging to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that Raymond Neal Swayney was indicted last month after being accused of setting the May 21, 2011 fire.
Swayney pleaded not guilty to the two arson-related charges Monday in U.S. District Court in Asheville.
If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison, in addition to a fine.
Swayney has been released from custody on a $25,000 bond.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Cherokee Casinos’ footprint may be going beyond Oklahoma’s borders in the near future.
On June 23, Arkansas Wins in 2016, an advocacy group trying to expand commercial gaming into the Natural State, announced that it had reached an agreement with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to own a casino, hotel and entertainment venue in Washington County, Arkansas.
“It’s been an interest of ours for many years to leverage our nearly 30 years’ experience in gaming, hospitality and entertainment into markets outside of Oklahoma,” Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said. “This commercial gaming venture is a natural evolution of our business model that will be good for the state, northwest Arkansas and the Cherokee Nation. We employ thousands of people, and are good community partners, and we look forward to extending that into Arkansas.”
The agreement is contingent upon the passage of a potential ballot measure. On June 1, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge approved the form for a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow gaming in three specific counties: Washington, Boone and Miller.
Boone County is in north-central Arkansas near Branson, Missouri. With its county seat at Texarkana, Miller County is in the southwestern corner of the state.
The state’s third-most populous county, Washington County is home to the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus in Fayetteville.
Robert Coon, a spokesman for Arkansas Wins in 2016, said the group’s decision to target specific counties rather than seek approval for gaming statewide was a conscious one to not over-saturate Arkansas’ gaming market. In addition to a statewide lottery, there is a horse race facility with video poker in Hot Springs and a dog racing track in West Memphis. State law currently only allows casinos at facilities with pari-mutuel betting.
“We don’t want to overwhelm the market,” Coon said. “We wanted to look at where would be opportunities where there’s already specific tourism draws where people are going and taking their money outside the state’s boundaries.”
According to the ballot measure’s text, an Arkansas-based limited liability company would operate each of the three sites, which would be subject to state law. The commercial casinos would also be governed by regulations enacted by the Arkansas Gaming Commission, established by the same ballot measure.
“The Cherokee Nation, just like any other operator, would be subject to the requirements of the amendments, including laws enacted by the General Assembly,” Coon said. “They would be an operator just like any other business venture operator would be treated here.”
Repeating language from the proposed ballot measure, Amanda Clinton, Vice President of communications for CNB, said the casino would be subject to the laws enacted by the Arkansas General Assembly, regulations promulgated by the Arkansas Gaming Commission.
Several of the specifics about the project, including the site, size, number of new jobs and available amenities, have not yet been determined. Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs is about 30 minutes away from Washington County’s two largest communities: Fayetteville and Springdale.
For the measure to get on the November ballot, organizers must collect signatures from 84,859 registered Arkansas voters by July 8. Coon was unable to provide the number of signatures collected as of June 24, but said the group was “on track” to meet the minimum requirement by the Arkansas secretary of state’s deadline.
Two similar referenda were slated to go before Arkansas voters in 2012, but both were stricken from the ballot at the last minute due to litigation. In an interview with the Tulsa World, Slaton confirmed that ties between CNB and the Arkansas pro-casino group were established during that failed 2012 campaign.
“We’ve watched closely as Arkansas has moved to legalize casino gaming in recent years,” Clinton said. “Now that this initiative seems poised to be on the ballot this fall, it was the perfect time for this strategic business decision.”
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A man who pleaded guilty in the killing of a prostitute featured on the HBO series “Cathouse” and three other people has testified in the Oklahoma City trial of two other men charged in the case.
The Oklahoman reports that Cherokee Nation citizen Jonathan A. Cochran, 37, testified June 7 at the trial of Denny Phillips and Russell Hogshooter.
Both men charged with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy in the deaths of Brooke Phillips, Milagros Barrera, Jennifer Lynn Ermey and Casey Mark Barrientos. The other two murder charges are because Brooke Phillips and Barrerra were pregnant.
Hogshooter is accused of shooting Brooke Phillips, who was among the prostitutes featured on the cable network’s show about the Moonlite BunnyRanch, a legal brothel near Carson City, Nevada.
Prosecutors say Denny Phillips ordered the killing of Barrientos and that the women were killed to eliminate witnesses. Phillips and Hogshooter have pleaded not guilty.
David Tyner, who is also accused of being involved in the slayings, pleaded guilty in the case and has testified that he killed Barrientos, Barrera and Ermey because Denny Phillips threatened his family.
Cochran testified that before he entered a home and saw several bodies, he heard muffled gunshots from inside. Cochran, who was given a 25-year prison sentence, also testified that he knew that the killings were going to take place, but that he “didn’t verbally agree to kill anybody.”
“I went there under the assumption that somebody else was going to murder someone. I didn’t agree to the murders but I agreed to go down there,” Cochran testified.
Cochran said that he saw three bodies in the home once he entered, and that Hogshooter told him to shoot a woman who prosecutors identified as Brooke Phillips. Cochran said he fired a couple of shots, purposely missing.
Defense attorneys argue that there are inconsistencies in Cochran’s version of events. But prosecutors argue that significant details of what happened have stayed consistent with other testimony.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation honored Korean War veterans Jack Merle Gardner, George Edward Dewayne Johnston, Ralph George Grass and Eva D. Rider Tallon with the Medal of Patriotism at the June 13 Tribal Council meeting.
Cpl. Gardner, 74, was born April 16, 1942, in Claremore and joined the Marine Corps in 1959. Gardner attended basic training in San Diego and was sent to Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan, a Marines supply depot. He received weapons maintenance training while in Okinawa and maintained the base’s weapons. He also played football on its team. A colonel saw him playing and had Gardner transferred to Quantico, Virginia. He was part of the traveling football team that played football at Air Force, Army and Navy bases across the country. When the Cuban Missile Crisis began, football was suspended and all Marines were on standby. Gardner received an honorable discharge in 1963. He received medals and ribbons for his service, including the Good Conduct Medal.
“Serving the country helped me buy my home and get through college with the GI Bill,” Gardner said. “I appreciate the Cherokee Nation for this recognition award. I also thank the tribe for their quick response when a tumor was found on the lower part of my spine. I thank God they were on the ball.”
Staff Sgt. Johnston, 85, was born May 4, 1931, in Kenwood and entered the U.S. Air Force in 1952. Johnston attended basic training in San Antonio and radio school in Biloxi, Mississippi. While waiting for his top-secret clearance, Johnston travelled to Burma, London, Germany and Amsterdam before being stationed in Scotland as a radio operator. He was responsible for copying all Russian aircraft Morse Code transmissions. Johnston spent 20 months overseas copying Russian transmissions. He returned to the United States and received an honorable discharge in 1956. Johnston received ribbons and medals for his service, including the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grass, 79, was born March 7, 1937, in Locust Grove and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1955. Grass attended basic training in San Diego and was stationed on the USS McCoy Reynolds, where he trained servicemen from New Zealand. After the USS McCoy, Reynolds was turned over to the New Zealand Navy, deployed on the USS Picking to the South China Sea, where he served as a boiler operator helper. During his service, Grass made one trip around the world. He received an honorable discharge in 1959 and earned ribbons and medals for his service.
Cpl. Rider Tallon, 86, was born June 13, 1930, in Bunch and joined the U.S. Army in 1951. She attended basic training at Fort Lee in Virginia and surgical technician school at Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio. Rider Tallon was then stationed at Fort Lawton in Washington, where she served as a company clerk. While at Fort Lawton, she received “Soldier of the Week” honors and attended the University of Seattle. She was then deployed to the 8168th Army Hospital Unit in Yokohama, Japan, where she served as the editor of the battalion newspaper and attended Red Cross activities for wounded soldiers from the Korean War. Rider Tallon received an honorable discharge in 1954 and earned ribbons and medals for her service.
To nominate a veteran who is a CN citizen, call 918-772-4166.