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Cayuga Nation files federal lawsuit over E911 access denial in Cayuga and Seneca counties

  • / Updated:
  • Staff Report 

On July 8, 2024, the Cayuga Nation initiated a federal lawsuit against Cayuga County, Seneca County, and Mark Balistreri, Director of the New York State Office of Interoperable & Emergency Communications. The lawsuit, filed in the Federal District Court for the Western District of New York, seeks to address the counties’ refusal to provide the Cayuga Nation Police Department (CNPD) with access to their E911 emergency systems.

Background and Complaint Details

The CNPD, a federally recognized law enforcement agency, is comprised of experienced and certified officers. Despite state and federal policies promoting interoperability among public safety agencies, Cayuga and Seneca Counties have consistently denied the CNPD access to their E911 systems. This refusal, the Nation claims, jeopardizes the safety and well-being of both the Cayuga Nation and its citizens.

The lawsuit emphasizes several key points:

  1. Systematic Exclusion: While other public safety agencies, including volunteer fire departments and ambulance services, have been granted E911 system access, the CNPD has been excluded.
  2. Unjustified Costs: The counties have cited cost concerns as a reason for the denial, yet there is no evidence that other agencies have been required to pay fees for connectivity.
  3. Concurrent Jurisdiction: Under federal law, the CNPD has concurrent law enforcement jurisdiction within the Cayuga Nation’s 64,015-acre reservation. Denying E911 access hinders the CNPD’s ability to respond promptly to emergencies, endangering both Native American and non-Native residents.
  4. Coordination and Safety Risks: Exclusion from the E911 system prevents the CNPD from effectively coordinating with other emergency responders, creating dangerous gaps in emergency response and situational awareness.

Statement from Clint Halftown

Clint Halftown, the federally recognized representative of the Cayuga Nation, emphasized the critical nature of the issue. “Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our citizens. The refusal to integrate the Cayuga Nation Police Department into the E911 systems is not only discriminatory but also jeopardizes public safety and the lives of Cayuga Nation citizens. We call upon Cayuga and Seneca Counties to end this unjust practice and allow the CNPD the same access as other law enforcement agencies. The safety of our community should be paramount.”

What’s Next?

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief and damages for the counties’ refusal to transmit emergency calls to CNPD units. By filing this complaint, the Cayuga Nation aims to ensure that its police department can operate on an equal footing with other public safety agencies and provide effective emergency services to its community.