Leaders in Cayuga County speak up, lawyers send multiple letters requesting answers in Cayuga Nation dispute
– By Gabriel Pietrorazio
In the Village of Union Springs, Mayor Bud Shattuck does not shy away from publicly airing his concerns about the possibility of retaliation in Cayuga County as the Cayuga Nation leadership dispute in Seneca Falls continues.
Neighboring the Town of Seneca Falls, Lakeside Trading stationed on 299 Cayuga St. and Lakeside Entertainment located on 271 Cayuga St. in Union Springs are owned by the Cayuga Nation.
With deeds in-hand, Clint Halftown has protected his properties, placing Cayuga Nation Police at properties throughout the Village of Union Springs, but Cayuga County has been increasingly critical of the nation’s presence in the aftermath of the Seneca Falls demolition and violent brawl.
After reading a FingerLakes1.com exclusive, Shattuck admitted that the Kahnawake Warrior Society was also present in Union Springs nearly eight-years-ago when the village dealt with their own incarnation of the longstanding leadership dispute.
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“My concern is exactly that. On the Seneca County side, they’re going to have two armies. They’re going to have the paid ex-police officers and ex-military people that they utilize on the halftime side and then they’re going to have this other warrior side who are coming in who are who are renegades but traditional renegades to say, you know, this is this is how we do things and I’m concerned that spills over,” Shattuck told FingerLakes1.com.
With a minimum of three or four Cayuga Nation Police cars set up at all different angles, Shattuck claims that positioning vehicles on Cayuga Nation owned properties in Union Springs presents a perception, one that makes them appear and “look like they’re police.”
“But it leaves an impression and, you know, I think that there’s always that fear that when you have that many people here in the service position for the Cayuga Nation, that they also understand that the biggest problem they could have would be the properties here in Union Springs,” he continued.
While the Cayuga Nation Police have heightened security efforts in both counties following the demolition, the policing presence problem in Union Springs for Mayor Shattuck has been admittedly apparent for years and increasingly concerns him as an elected public official, especially when this police force has been outfitted with semiautomatic weapons.
As a result, Shattuck has led a proactive approach to address the prospects of a violent situation to occur in Union Springs like Seneca Falls, which has ensued in the form of letters and legal notices between the Village of Union Springs and Halftown’s legal counsel.
In a series of several corresponding statements and letters spanning March 2nd to 10th, Daniel Tennant who represents the Village of Union Springs has been conversing back-and-forth with Jenner & Block Litigation Counsel David W. DeBruin on behalf of Halftown concerning an active court case between the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Village of Union Springs under the Honorable David N. Hurd at the Northern District of New York Federal Court.
The first letter written by Tennant and dated for March 2nd outlines the evolving conflict in Seneca Falls, considering how such violence may in fact spillover into Union Springs.
“On behalf of the Mayor of the Village of Union Springs, and the community he represents, we write to convey deep concerns about the recent string of violence in Seneca Falls between warring factions of the Cayuga Nation and fear that violence will spread to the Village of Union Springs. The turmoil within the Cayuga Nation and resort to violent self-help has resulted in public actions that include (according to published reports) the current tribal leadership’s overnight use of firearms and bulldozers to destroy buildings and crush internal opposition (February 27) with protests of that action (February 29) turning violent including a ten minute brawl – apparently while state and local law enforcement monitored the situation,” Tennant states.
“The lawless behavior is an affront to the rule of law and instills widespread concern about violence begetting violence. The Village of Union Springs has already experienced violence from internal tribal turmoil spilling into the community. People seeking to intimidate and quell dissent using baseball bats (as in the previous incident in Union Springs) or guns and bulldozers (as was the case in Seneca Falls), put communities on edge and public safety at risk,” the letter continues.
A day later with a response dated for March 3rd, DeBruin argues that the aforementioned letter “disparage the Nation before this Court with assertions that the Nation has “resort[ed] to violent self-help.””
DeBruin claims that the Village of Union Springs “does not even pretend that this smear has any relevance to the legal issues raised by this case,” and then continues to cite legal precedents and related court case decisions that justify the Cayuga Nation’s actions.
Three days later in a letter dated March 6th, Tennant reacts to DeBruin’s comments while raising questions about how the Cayuga Nation Police operated while seizing and overseeing the demolishment of those same properties.
“We do not intend to “smear” the Nation; nor does the Village take sides in the long-running leadership dispute. Rather we wish to express the deep concern within the Village about internal tribal violence spilling out again into our community – and our need for a judicial ruling to provide jurisdictional clarity over the fee lands in question,” Tennant opens in the statement.
Tennant explains that the Cayuga Nation continue to claim tribal sovereignty and yet abide by Seneca County mandates by securing demolition permits on fee lands.
Tennant continues, “No other landowner would be allowed to undertake such hazardous work without a demolition permit, much less at night and at gunpoint. This Court’s decision in Union Springs II forbids the Cayugas from acting in this manner. Yet the Cayugas call it “a successful law enforcement action.””
On that same day in response to Tennant’s letter, DeBruin claims in a short statement that the Cayuga Nation Police did not recover the properties at gunpoint and obtained the necessary documentation for the scheduled demolition to commence while undertaking the proper precautions to reduce health risks relating to asbestos and other hazardous materials.
“Mr. Tennant makes the irresponsible claim that the Nation recovered its stolen properties “at gunpoint”; at no point did any Cayuga Nation police officer have any need or occasion to use, threaten to use, or demonstrate possession of a firearm,” DeBruin writes.
The final letter dated March 10th from Tennant to Hurd responds to DeBruin’s latest statement and provides substantiated evidence, proving that the Cayuga Nation Police entered a facility in Seneca Falls with guns drawn in a tactical formation when a Ring surveillance system captured that moment on camera.
The statement also addresses the status of the demolition permits issue, arguing that the “permits were acquired three (3) and five (5) days after the February 22 “law enforcement operation” that completely or partially destroyed the properties in question” following the pursuant of a FOIL request.
Tennant elaborates for clarification, “The Cayugas had no legal right to demolish any buildings on the night of February 22 or any time before February 25, at the earliest. The after-the-fact issuance of permits by Seneca County (not the Town of Seneca Falls) does not retroactively cure this defect.”
Both Cayuga and Seneca counties possess state-funded Article 10 lawyers that deal with legal disputes and Shattuck considers them as “integral parts of how you move against sort of an immovable object that the BIA is created.”
As for the Cayuga Nation Police, county officials previously have been in conversation with the Cayuga Nation Police and Daniel French, a partner at Barclay Damon law firm in Syracuse who represents Halftown ever since the police force was founded back in 2018.
Shattuck notes that French approached the Cayuga County Sherriff Department in an attempt to secure “validation of their credentials as police officers,” but the county has repeatedly argued otherwise, notifying nation leadership that their jurisdictional claims are seriously in question.
“They’ve been told, no, you have no jurisdiction over anything,” Shattuck firmly stated.
Calling-out the Halftown legal counsel, Shattuck believes that Lee Alcott, who is also another Barclay Damon partner on Halftown’s case should hold onto his words with accountability while the jurisdictional dispute about fee lands still remains on the table.
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“I would take them to task, knowing what I know especially even with what Alcott said and just think about who really does have jurisdiction on these in fee properties, and I’m thinking that more can be done,” Shattuck said.
Aside from the legal jurisdiction dispute, Shattuck is clearly concerned about public safety in the Village of Union Springs, specifically for non-Native Americans.
“The people who would be hurt are again, not Native Americans because they don’t come to our casino and they don’t come to this gas station over here. It’s you know, just the regular everyday person who you know, enjoys a casino or wants to buy cheap cigarettes or cheap gas,” Shattuck shared.
While in “constant contact” with local law enforcement, Shattuck seeks to proceed with precaution, even occasionally connecting with the New York State Police Department in preparation for one-day where officers may need to arrive at a minute’s notice “just to stop something before it gets out of hand.”
Beyond reaching-out to the state level and the Governor’s Office, Shattuck explained that he will have another opportunity to get answers, or at least some direction from the state on this complicated conflict.
With an upcoming mayor’s conference in Albany on the horizon for Shattuck, he plans on advocating on behalf of Union Springs during uncertain times for his community.
“I’ll be talking to whoever I can about what should be done and what can be done so that we don’t have any problems here,” Shattuck promised.