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Another ruling says Riverton not reservation

May 11, 2012 - Martin Reed, Staff Writer

This one involved a lawsuit filed against the Riverton Police Department.

A federal judge in Wyoming has ruled in support of previous determinations by courts that Riverton is not within the exterior boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson issued the ruling April 30 in the jurisdictional lawsuit filed by Northern Arapaho tribal member Lester Antonio Dewey concerning his arrest in Riverton.

"Mr. Dewey's sole claim is that the city of Riverton, Wyoming is part of 'Indian Country' ... and, because he is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the Riverton Police did not have jurisdiction to arrest him," according to Johnson's ruling.

Johnson cited a Wyoming Supreme Court ruling in the case of convicted baby-killer Andrew Yellowbear Jr.

"In that case, the court had to decide whether Yellowbear's crime, which took place in the city limits of Riverton, Wyoming, occurred in 'Indian Country,'" according to Johnson's ruling.

"After a very thorough analysis, the Wyoming Supreme Court determined that the city of Riverton was not 'Indian Country,'" according to the April 30 ruling, which also cited affirmation by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The decision by Johnson in Dewey's case arrived just ahead of a May 7 hearing in the Denver federal appeals court on litigation launched by the Northern Arapaho Tribe against the state and Fremont County.

The tribe's attorneys are arguing that areas north of the Wind River that opened to non-Indian settlement in 1905 continue to remain within the exterior boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

A decision in the tribe's favor could have drastic jurisdictional effects on Riverton and the area in question, and some are concerned about law enforcement powers and tribal taxation.

The Northern Arapaho lawyers contend the state and county are illegally taxing tribal members in the affected area, which they claim is still within the reservation.

In 2010, a federal judge ruled that the tribe's lawsuit could not proceed without participation by the U.S. government and Eastern Shoshone Tribe, both of which objected.

Additionally, the reservation boundary issue is a focal point of attention by some on the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes' attempt to regulate air quality through the Environmental Protection Agency in an area extending beyond the reservation boundaries.

The federal agency has yet to issue a determination in the tribal application known as Treatment in the Same Manner as a State that is more than 3 years old.

In the Dewey case, Johnson continued to support the previous decision about Riverton's jurisdiction, citing the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling.

"We conclude from all these factors that it was the intent of Congress in passing the 1905 Act [of Congress] to diminish the Wind River Indian Reservation and to remove from it the lands described as 'ceded, granted, and relinquished' thereunder," according to the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling.

"While the City of Riverton may be located on lands that at one time were within the external boundaries of the reservation those lands are no longer part of the reservation, and are not 'Indian Country,'" according to the ruling.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected Yellowbear's arguments.

"In sum, Mr. Yellowbear failed to convince the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Wyoming Supreme Court's decision that Riverton was not 'Indian country' according to the 1905 Act of Congress was erroneous," Johnson wrote.

Dewey filed his lawsuit against Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead and officer Gary Cruce in December. The lawsuit alleged police illegally arrested Dewey in July 2010 at Forest Drive apartments.

"In the case before the Court, Mr. Dewey has not identified any existing law that would put the Defendants on notice that they violated his constitutional rights by arresting him in the city limits of Riverton, Wyoming. In fact, the opposite is true," according to Johnson's ruling.

"The decisions in the Yellowbear cases would have put the officers on notice that Riverton, Wyoming is not 'Indian country' and that jurisdiction for his arrest lies with the Riverton Police Department," Johnson wrote.