Ute Indian Tribe Secures Victory in Tenth Circuit’s Denial of Uintah County Officer’s Request for Rehearing

County Sheriff Vance Norton shot and killed Ute tribal citizen

Published September 23, 2017

FT. DUCHESNE, UTAH — Monday, September 18, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied state and local law enforcement officers’ petition to have the full Court reconsider a three-judge panel’s decision in Vance Norton, et al, v. Ute Indian Tribe. The denial allows the Tribe’s trespass suit against the state and local officers to proceed in the Ute Indian Tribal Court.

The Tribal Business Committee praised the ruling, saying the Tribe welcomes the Tenth Circuit’s vindication of the Tribe’s sovereign authority over tribal lands and the Tribal Court’s jurisdiction over the trespass suit.

The County Officer’s request for a rehearing relates to the July 11, 2017 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in favor of the Ute Indian Tribe in the Norton case, to hold now-Uintah County Sheriff Vance Norton accountable for allegedly trespassing onto the Ute Reservation and shooting Todd Murray, an unarmed Ute Indian, in the head from point blank range; and to hold Norton’s associates accountable for allegedly trespassing onto the Reservation and destroying evidence and taking other actions to cover up Norton’s shooting of Murray.

The Tenth Circuit decision provides a significant victory for the Ute Indian Tribe in strengthening the jurisdiction of the Ute Indian Tribal Court to hear and resolve claims involving non-members and affirming the civil regulatory authority of the Ute Indian Tribe to enforce its Tribal Trespass Ordinance, Ordinance 13-005, against non-members who come onto the Uintah and Ouray Reservation without lawful authorization from the Tribe.

At the same time, the Tribe is highly critical of Duchesne County’s decision to terminate the County’s misdemeanor prosecution agreement with Myton City.

The Tribe recently was provided a copy of the letter dated September 7, 2017, from Duchesne County to the Myton City Police Department, notifying Myton of the County’s decision.

The letter, signed by Deputy Duchesne County Attorney Grant H. Charles states, in pertinent part:

Duchesne County opted to terminate the agreement under which the County Attorney’s Office prosecuted misdemeanor criminal cases and infractions originating in Myton City. … For the time being the Sheriff’s department will not efile any case to which they respond in Myton City.

The letter states that Duchesne County will “continue prosecuting all cases filed on or before September 06, 2017 until those cases reach a final disposition.”

The letter also states that Duchesne County will continue to prosecute all felony cases originating in Myton and all schedule I or II drug infractions.

The County’s decision is limited to non-Indian misdemeanor offenders in Myton. The Ute Indian Tribe will continue to prosecute Indian offenders through the Ute Indian Tribal Court for misdemeanor offenses committed on tribal lands within Myton.

The Ute Indian Tribe says that Duchesne County’s decision—apparently made with the State’s tacit consent—represents a dereliction of the State and the County’s obligation to insure law and order for non-Indian residents on non-tribal lands within Myton.

“The Tribe is worried that if the State and County stop prosecuting all non-Indian misdemeanor offenders in reservation border areas, it will create lawless zones in many parts of the County,” said the Tribe’s Business Committee.

The Tribe also charges that Duchesne County is acting on improper motives, saying the decision to halt misdemeanor prosecutions is apparently intended by the County to frustrate and undermine ongoing talks between Myton and the Ute Tribe aimed at reaching a settlement of jurisdictional issues within the Town of Myton. As previously reported in the Uintah Basin Standard (“Commissioners Make Decision about Sherriff Department Contract with Myton”, Brenda Fisher, August 8th, 2017), “[w]ith the recent changes to Myton’s police hours and the recent court ruling in favor of the Ute Tribe, [Duchesne County Sherriff] Boren said he felt it was time to terminate the contract and renegotiate the terms.” The Duchesne County Commission agreed and “made the decision to send a 60-day notice to Myton City regarding the County’s decision to terminate the current contract.”

“The Tribe will step up to the plate, if the State and County do not,” the Business Committee said. “The trespass action of Uintah County law enforcement officers that are the subject of the Norton case as well as the decision of Duchesne County to terminate prosecution and law enforcement services in Myton both result from an unwillingness of the counties to recognize the Ute Indian Tribe’s jurisdiction and work with the Tribe in establishing an effective solution to ensure law and order is maintained within and around the Uintah and Ouray Reservation for the protection of all citizens of the Uintah Basin. Non-Indian citizens of Myton, who pay tax dollars each year for these services, should be outraged that their elected leaders have taken this position in denying their rights under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution to a speedy and public trial for offenses committed within Myton that are subject to state jurisdiction” said the Business Committee .

In response to the County’s action, the Tribe has offered to have its Tribal Prosecutor begin prosecuting non-Indian misdemeanor crimes for the Town of Myton. The Tribe and Myton are also exploring other options to address law and order in Myton. These possibilities include a possible deputation agreement for BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) police officers that would allow BIA police officers to arrest non-Indian offenders. The Tribe is also exploring the possibility of establishing a BIA police sub-station in Myton. “Although the State of Utah and Duchene County have left Myton’s non-Indian residents without necessary law and order services, the Ute Indian Tribe is prepared to spend tribal resources, if necessary, to insure that Myton does not suffer the loss of necessary services,” said Chairman Duncan.

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