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Cayuga Nation attorneys argue police force has authority in new letter to local law enforcement

Peenstra, Luce respond after weekend violence: Cayuga Nation legal counsel steps in, says Cayuga Nation PD has authority

– By Josh Durso

Seneca Falls Police Chief Stuart Peenstra and Seneca County Sheriff Tim Luce released a joint-statement after this past weekend’s violence at property owned by the Cayuga Nation.

A letter from David W. DeBruin, of Jenner & Block, the legal firm that represents the Cayuga Nation accompanied that statement.

It addressed many of the concerns residents and nation members have voiced since the violent outbreak along State Route 89 on Saturday.

Specifically, the two law enforcement leaders responded to a story published earlier on, which detailed the account of a Seneca County resident who was detained by Cayuga Nation Police.

Charles Bowman suffered numerous injuries, was zip-tied, and brought to an undisclosed location on Cayuga Nation property before eventually being released.

Peenstra and Luce said that they received a report from CIN police that Bowman punched a CIN police officer prior to being detained. They also received a formal complaint from Bowman against the Cayuga Nation police. The duo said the matter was being ‘thoroughly investigated’.

“We are currently attempting to collect all evidence surrounding the allegations and will apply any violations of the law, if applicable,” they said in the statement. “We cannot emphasize enough for anyone wishing to file a complaint or has information regarding Saturday’s incident to come to the Seneca Falls Police Department. At this point, Mr. Bowman is the only individual to come forward with a complaint.”

While the statement did not go into additional detail, the letter attached from DeBruin, of Jenner & Block addressed several issues.

Editor’s Note: That letter will be uploaded in its entirety at the bottom of this story. Or you can click here to read it.

“In light of actions taken [Saturday], I write to set forth again the legal authority of the Cayuga Nation Police to take those actions. I would be pleased to address any questions you may have,” the letter says, addressed to Peenstra, Luce, and other Seneca County officials – including the District Attorney’s Office.

The letter continues, pointing to the ‘statutory authority’ granted to the Cayuga Nation:

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, has determined that Cayuga Nation citizens have selected a Cayuga Nation Council led by Clint Halftown “as the Nation’s governing body without qualification” and “the Nation’s government for all purposes.”

It points to a letter from Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, of the United States Department of the Interior, which set fourth the formation of the Cayuga Nation Police Department.

DeBruin adds, “In addition, as you know, the Department of the Interior also has made clear 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’.”

That point, while argued vigorously by Cayuga Nation’s attorneys, has been contested by indigenous rights lawyers. Gabriel Galanda, the managing lawyer of Galanda Broadman, an Indigenous rights law firm stationed out of Seattle, Washington weighed in on the matter last week.

Galanda added that the Cayuga Nation Police jurisdiction is also non-applicable for Cayugas on ‘fee lands’ [which Clint] Halftown owns where the brawl and demolition both took place. “On fee lands they lack criminal authority over everyone, including Cayugas,” he concluded. He noted that they lack authority of any kind over non-natives, as well.

Nonetheless, the letter written by DeBruin disputes that claim, and provides a number of legal decisions.

Click here to read the full-document, and see cited legal resources provided by Cayuga Nation legal counsel.