Piñon Bashas’ – Scene of two lockdowns in two days on Navajo Reservation
PIÑON, ARIZONA — Three Piñon area locals were arrested Thursday following a shooting incident at the Piñon Basha’s supermarket, and a fourth man was detained Friday after allegedly carrying a gun into the store, witnesses said.
No one was hurt in the shooting, but a young woman suffered cuts, possibly from a machete that was also involved in the Thursday incident.
Fernando Dempsey, Thomas Montoya and Olivia Montoya, ages and addresses unknown, were arrested in the parking lot of the Piñon Basha’s while Dempsey and Thomas Montoya were attempting to flee the scene, said Manuel Begay, a security guard with Diné Protection Agency who was working at the Conoco station next door to Basha’s and ended up helping with the arrest.
Olivia Montoya was detained after allegedly assaulting the Navajo Nation Police officer who was arresting Thomas. Begay said the the two Montoyas are siblings.
Begay said he was on duty at the gas station at 2:39 p.m. Thursday when he heard a gunshot coming from the area of the Basha’s.
“Everyone was yelling,” he recalled. “Some people were crying and calling for help.”
Begay called the Chinle Police Department, which had already been notified by a shopper.
After that, Begay heard two more shots. Witnesses said Thomas Montoya was firing a shotgun into the air. The first shot was in foyer of Basha’s and left a two-inch-diameter hole in the ceiling that could still be seen Friday; the other two in the parking lot.
“At 2:45, the first police arrived,” Begay recalled. “He waved me over to assist him. He knew there wasn’t another officer behind him.”
Begay got in his car and followed the officer into the parking lot. They saw a man running, carrying a machete, which he eventually dropped.
“The officer tazed him,” Begay said. “That’s how we detained the first suspect (Dempsey).”
Then, Begay recounted, “People started yelling, ‘That guy over there has a gun!’”
Begay saw another man running, but he didn’t have a gun. “He laid it under a silver vehicle,” he said.
Since the suspect appeared to be unarmed, Begay, who is large and fit but well into middle age, made the decision to go after him.
“It was risky,” he said, “but I wanted to protect my community.”
Begay tackled Montoya and “took him down.” While the officer was arresting Montoya, Begay said, Olivia Montoya began to beat the officer with her fists. She was also arrested.
Another young woman was bleeding, possibly having been assaulted with the machete, Begay said. An ambulance was called.
“She’ll be all right,” Begay said. “She didn’t look too bad.”
He said all three suspects were detained within five minutes.
Friday’s incident may or may not have involved a gunshot; an employee at the Cellular One store in the Basha’s foyer said the shopping center was put on lockdown about noon after reports started to surface about a man with a gun, and shortly thereafter she saw police escort a man out of the Basha’s store. “I didn’t hear a shot that time,” she said.
Police had not released the suspect’s name as of 5 p.m. Friday, and Rick Abasta, President Russell Begaye’s spokesman, described him as “detained” rather than arrested.
By 3:30 p.m. Friday, people were shopping as normal, but Begay said the community is still on edge.
“It’s all gang-related,” he said. “Those guys call themselves the RNW, Red Nation Warriors or something like that.”
But real Diné warriors, said Begay, know better than to get between people and their sustenance.
“We all come here,” he said, motioning to the Basha’s store behind him. “This is where we get our food. Those young guys, maybe they don’t know where their food comes from.
“Tell President Begaye and Council we need more police out here,” he added.
He actually got to deliver that message in person as Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Black Mesa/Hardrock/Whippoorwill/Pinon) happened to be shopping at Basha’s Friday afternoon.
Witherspoon agreed with Begaye, but said more police alone won’t do the job.
“Between the chief prosecutor resigning and what’s happening with our judge (Judge Victoria Yazzie has been accused of ruling on cases involving relatives), the Judicial Branch is becoming a revolving door,” Witherspoon said. “Our public safety system is broken.
“It takes more than police to create safe communities, it takes prosecutors, it takes public defenders, it takes probation officers, it takes resources to hold someone accountable for their behavior and actions.”
This time, it took a policeman and one quick-thinking security guard who’s tired of gangs taking over his community.
Editor’s Note: This arcticle was origianally published by the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.