Law enforcement had been prepping during lead-up to takeover, demolition
– By Josh Durso
The Seneca County Board of Supervisors passed three resolutions in a special, emergency meeting following the unexpected demolition of several buildings on Cayuga Nation property along State Route 89.
All of the resolutions were passed unanimously.
First, a resolution directed at federal representatives to freeze all funds to the Cayuga Nation. Second, requested the continued deployment of the U.S. Marshals Service to Seneca County to ensure the preservation of non-tribal property, as well as the continued safety of Seneca County citizens. Third, a request to U.S. prosecutors to investigate the recent conduct of the Cayuga Nation.
Those resolutions were all part-responses to concerns raised by members of the Cayuga Nation, legal representation for the impacted group, and those raised by taxpayers.
Seneca County Code Enforcement will also be following up with the Cayuga Nation about violations in the permitting process. County Manager Mitch Rowe confirmed that the Cayuga Nation did not seek, nor receive approval from Code Enforcement to perform a complete- or partial demolition of any property.
As the Board of Supervisors announced that Code Enforcement would be following up on that concern, it was pointed out that each building would have required individual permitting for demolition.
Seneca County Sheriff Tim Luce provided a written update to the supervisors, as well as media, about the lead-up to Saturday’s unexpected demolition.
“During the week of February 17th the Seneca Falls Police Department received credible information that the Clint Halftown faction was planning a takeover of the Lakeside Trading Property located on Route 89, at Garden Street Extension,” Sheriff Luce wrote in an update distributed to media and officials. “This take-over was scheduled for 2 a.m. on Saturday, February 22nd.”
Sheriff Luce said Seneca Falls Police Chief Stuuart Peenstra requested assistance from the New York State Police and Seneca County Sheriff’s Office. “A unified command was established and an operational plan was developed,” Luce added. “Officers from the SFPD, NYSP, and Sheriff’s Office were dedicated to the detail.”
Sheriff Luce also noted that federal authorities at the FBI were advised. He said that several rules of engagement were established. For example, Luce said law enforcement was not going to take sides in the conflict, and Cayuga Nation owned property and crimes involving them were not going to be prosecuted. However, crimes against people would be investigated as legitimate complaints and handled as such.
He added that safety to the public was top-priority, and that Cayuga Nation Police would not be recognized as having any authority over non-Native Americans.
Among the actions that were taken as part of this effort, roving unmarked patrol cars monitored the involved areas throughout the duration of the event; a drone was deployed to also monitor the incident once it began; and informants were utilized to maintain intelligence on-site. The Sheriff said that special ‘response teams’ were organized and staged to respond to complaints or issues in the involved area, and traffic post teams were setup to respond if it became necessary to close roads surrounding the involved area. Emergency medical, communications, and fire services were also staged in the area.
“No non-Indian citizens or children were involved,” Sheriff Luce said in his update. “Several buildings on the Lakeside Trading property were rendered ‘inoperable’ by the CIN using heavy equipment.”
Only one complaint was received throughout the duration of the operation. It was a noise complaint, according to Sheriff Luce, who says that there were no traffic issues, nor were there any known reports of crimes against people.
District Attorney Mark Sinkiewicz addressed the board publicly, discussing the concerns raised by some residents.
“Residents need not fear,” he said. “The matter is being given great attention. Law enforcement agencies are aware of what’s going on.” Speaking to concerns for U.S. citizens, he added, “They will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” if property of persons are harmed.
Supervisor Mike Ferrara, R-Seneca Falls, thanked law enforcement for their efforts. Those law enforcement representatives in attendance received a round of applause for their efforts.
Joe Heath, an attorney representing the Unity Council faction, who was targeted by the demolition by the Cayuga Nation’s recognized leadership said the entire ordeal was the result of ‘many’ bad government decisions. He referenced a series of leadership decisions that were rendered, and pointed out that the actions by the Halftown faction violated federal law.
That point is what prompted the resolution to call for a federal investigation. “What kind of government tears down a daycare center for political reasons?” Heath asked the supervisors. “Leaders have not been selected through a correct or legitimate process,” he said. “It is not a traditional government. It is not a legitimate government.”
When given the opportunity to respond, about 30 minutes into the meeting, Halftown’s legal representation, which was present – left the building. Chairman Hayssen provided them with the opportunity to speak.
Former Board Chairman Bob Shipley, a Waterloo resident, called for HUD funds to be frozen. Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developments announced that the Cayuga Nation was the recipient of more than $287,000 in grant funds for an affordable housing project in Seneca Falls.
While the dispute continues to unfold, the Halftown faction contends that they are the legally acknowledged leaders of the Cayuga Nation. They earlier alleged that the properties that were partly, or entirely destroyed over the weekend, were being operated by the opposing faction, and funds were being wrongly diverted. They even alleged that some non-Cayuga Nation residents were involved in operation of these locations.
Full statement from the Cayuga Nation:
“The Cayuga Nation took possession this morning of certain Cayuga Nation properties that were seized from the Nation in 2014. The properties were seized and have been occupied by several persons, some of whom have claimed to be leaders of the Cayuga Nation, and some of whom have no connection to the Cayuga Nation at all. With regard to those who claimed to be leaders, the question of leadership was put directly to the Cayuga people in 2016. In an open governance process in which all Cayuga Nation leaders and claimed leaders participated and had a full opportunity to be heard, the Cayuga people overwhelmingly confirmed that a Cayuga Nation Council led by Clint Halftown is the proper government of the Cayuga Nation for all purposes.
This Cayuga Nation Council does not include any persons who seized the Cayuga Nation properties in 2014. The internal Cayuga governance process was reviewed by the United States Department of the Interior, which has statutory authority over “the management of all Indian affairs and of all matters arising out of Indian relations.” 25 U.S.C. §2. The Department found the internal governance process to be consistent with Cayuga Nation law and fair to all participants. In a November 14, 2019 letter, the Department reiterated that Cayuga citizens had confirmed a Cayuga Nation Council led by Clint Halftown “as the Nation’s governing body without qualification” and “the Nation’s government for all purposes.”
Despite this confirmation by the Cayuga people of their government, those who had seized the Cayuga Nation properties in 2014 refused to leave. They continued to operate Cayuga Nation businesses keeping the money for themselves, and refusing to provide any accounting for how the money was spent.
Prior to today’s action, the Cayuga Nation brought suit in state court, seeking to recover the properties that belong to the Nation. On October 29, 2019, however, the New York Court of Appeals refused to exercise jurisdiction in the case. It ruled that the Cayuga Nation property dispute “turns on disputed issues of tribal law” and that the Nation must use “dispute resolution mechanisms other than [state] courts,” which the court emphasized “is itself an exercise of the right to self-govern in a manner consistent with tribal traditions and oral law.”
Today, the Cayuga Nation has employed tribal law to detain persons who have violated that law, and the Nation has retaken possession of its properties. In the course of searching the properties, the Nation’s law enforcement officers located substances suspected to be methamphetamine and marijuana, along with drug paraphernalia, guns, and ammunition. Six individuals were released without charges. A seventh individual was charged with possession of a substance suspected to be methamphetamine and was arraigned by Cayuga Nation Judge Joseph Fahey. The charges will be resolved in the Cayuga Nation court system, and the defendant may be represented by counsel of his choice. If he does not have counsel, an attorney will be provided.
In taking these actions, the Nation has acted in accordance with authority expressly recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs in a letter to Seneca Falls Chief of Police Stuart Peenstra in a letter dated June 17, 2019. In that letter, the BIA declared that the Cayuga Nation has “inherent sovereign authority to enforce its own laws inside the Cayuga Indian Nation Reservation boundaries through a law enforcement program” and that “the Cayuga Indian Nation may enforce its own criminal laws against Indians within the boundaries of the Reservation.”
The Cayuga Nation also chose today to demolish certain buildings that it owned on these properties. It did so to eliminate certain public safety issues, and it does not want these buildings to become a target for any further friction in the community going forward.”
– RELATED: Protesters line up along Route 89 after buildings destroyed
Families left scrambling after businesses, educational spaces leveled by leadership
– By Josh Durso
The wrecking crew showed up around 2 a.m., and within a matter of hours several buildings owned by the Cayuga Nation were leveled.
Members of the Cayuga Nation community in Seneca Falls were stunned by the move to demolish the school, convenience store, gas station, and daycare center along State Route 89.
Beyond being thrown into a state of shock – some members of the community feared for their lives.
“The Cayuga Nation took possession this morning of certain Cayuga Nation properties that were seized from the Nation in 2014,” leadership said in a statement on Saturday. “The properties were seized and have been occupied by several persons, some of whom have claimed to be leaders of the Cayuga Nation, and some of whom have no connection to the Cayuga Nation at all.”
The statement goes on to outline the recent leadership struggle that ensued, and ultimately played out in a tribal governance process, which the federal government recognized in a decision rendered in 2019.
The Cayuga Nation contends that those who seized the properties in 2014 refused to leave. “They continued to operate Cayuga Nation businesses keeping the money for themselves, and refusing to provide any accounting for how the money was spent,” the statement continued.
When tribal leaders took the matter to state courts, it wouldn’t be heard. So, the Nation was left to exercise tribal law, which it says it did fairly.
“[On Saturday] the Cayuga Nation has employed tribal law to detain persons who have violated that law, and the Nation has retaken possession of its properties,” the statement said. “In the course of searching the properties, the Nation’s law enforcement officers located substances suspected to be methamphetamine and marijuana, along with drug paraphernalia, guns, and ammunition. Six individuals were released without charges. A seventh individual was charged with possession of a substance suspected to be methamphetamine and was arraigned by Cayuga Nation Judge Joseph Fahey. The charges will be resolved in the Cayuga Nation court system, and the defendant may be represented by counsel of his choice. If he does not have counsel, an attorney will be provided.”
The Cayuga Nation says that by demolishing properties on Saturday it prevented future public safety issues, which persisted over the last several years. “The Cayuga Nation also chose today to demolish certain buildings that it owned on these properties. It did so to eliminate certain public safety issues, and it does not want these buildings to become a target for any further friction in the community going forward,” the statement added.
“The Nation has acted in accordance with authority expressly recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs in a letter to Seneca Falls Chief of Police Stuart Peenstra in a letter dated June 17, 2019. In that letter, the BIA declared that the Cayuga Nation has “inherent sovereign authority to enforce its own laws inside the Cayuga Indian Nation Reservation boundaries through a law enforcement program” and that “the Cayuga Indian Nation may enforce its own criminal laws against Indians within the boundaries of the Reservation.”
Lizzy Miller, a member of the Cayuga Nation community in Seneca Falls, was shaken by the entire ordeal.
“Clint Halftown and his twisted Cayuga Nation police are back at it again,” she said. “This time it’s worse than ever before and they brought in the feds. Overnight they destroyed all our communities commercial properties. The store, the daycare, the school house, the sugar shack and other properties.”
The businesses and buildings that were destroyed were a source of income for many members of the community. The profound disbelief shared by dozens of members of the community on social media showcased the complexity of the leadership issue.
“Everyone needs to pray for our family right now and for all of the Cayuga members out here. If he was heartless enough to destroy all of the businesses we are sure he’s coming straight for our houses next. Pray we keep our kids safe in this fight & pray we don’t lose everything within our homes,” she wrote. “We don’t deserve to live in such fear.”
Spencer Frank Gauthier added more context in a live video he posted to Facebook. “We have families in homes. We don’t know what they’re going to do. There’s children in homes. There’s a lot of fear. Are they going to raid homes next,” he said. “This is your federal recognition. This is your federal government working with Clint Halftown. This is what they do to Native people if you resist. If you resist this is what they do.”
“This is all because a few families resisted him,” Gauthier continued. “Because they didn’t seek federal recognition, federal monies. This is because they resisted. I’m shocked, I can’t believe this.”
“Clint Halftown and his twisted Cayuga Nation police are back at it again,” she wrote. “This time it’s worse than ever before and they brought in the feds. Overnight they destroyed all our communities commercial properties. The store, the daycare, the school house, the sugar shack and other properties.”
Earlier this week Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson announced a total of $655 million in Indian Housing Block Grants for Native American Tribes in 38 states.
According to a press release, the Cayuga Nation received $287,948 for projects in Seneca Falls. That announcement came on Tuesday, the demolition of the properties happened just days later.
Adding another layer of complication to the matter, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued the following statement:
“The Department is aware of reports that the Cayuga Nation recently conducted a demolition of buildings on property owned in fee by the tribe. There are further reports that some persons on that property may have been detained by employees of the tribe. The Department is further aware that in a press release of February 22, 2020, the Nation defended its actions as a justifiable exercise of tribal law.
The United States does not hold title in trust to any property on behalf of the Cayuga Nation, nor is any property recorded as federally restricted title, rather all real property owned by the tribe is owned in fee status. With regard to such fee land the Department has no administrative responsibilities, thus any action to demolish buildings did not require Department approval or even awareness.
The Department recognizes that federal law limits its authority to intervene in intra-tribal matters. However, detention of individuals on fee land, even tribal members alleged to be in violation of tribal law, can raise serious questions of state and federal jurisdiction.
The Department remains committed to ensuring public safety and will work with federal, state, and local law enforcement as appropriate.
The Department is continuing to gather information and consider options for appropriate action in the event that the Cayuga Nation violated applicable law or the civil liberties of individuals.”
In response to demolition, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors will hold an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. at the Seneca County Office Building.
Video w/ commentary from Route 89 this morning by Fayette resident Charles Bowman:
Warning: Some profanity in accompanying audio
Video w/ commentary from the scene during demolition of properties overnight by Frank Gauthier:
Photos from the property below shared to Facebook by Charles Bowman:
Photos from the scene by Greg Cotterill, FL News Radio:
Josh is the president and publisher of FingerLakes1.com. Have a question? Send them to [email protected].