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New law lets Pascua Yaqui charge non-Indians with domestic violence

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Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014

By Megan Guthrie


KATRINA  ARROYOS/CRONKITE NEWS: Imagine a police tribal officer has probable cause that someone committed an act of violence, yet is helpless to make an arrest. Reporter Megan Guthrie takes a look at how the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona was chosen as a model for change.

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: Just 17 miles south of Tucson sits the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Here, Officer Hector Olivo wants to keep people safe.

LT. HECTOR OLIVO/PASCUA YAQUI TRIBAL POLICE: We want to be seen as someone who is there to help victims. We don’t want to be looked at as, “It doesn’t matter whether you call us or not because there is nothing we can do.”

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: Yet for years, that just what was happening,

LT. HECTOR OLIVO/PASCUA YAQUI TRIBAL POLICE: We had a suspect that we had probable cause to arrest, but we didn’t have the authorization to detain them.

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: When a non-tribal member committed an act of violence on the reservation, that case fell into federal jurisdiction – leaving tribal police with few options.

LT. HECTOR OLIVO/PASCUA YAQUI TRIBAL POLICE: We weren’t going to take them to their house and tell them, you know, don’t assault your spouse anymore.

MELVIN STOOF/ASSOCIATE JUDGE, PASCUA YAQUI TRIBAL COURT: You would have these serial batterers, non-Indians, going from reservation to reservation abusing women, not being held accountable for any crimes.

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: It left tribal judges and officers feeling powerless.

LT. HECTOR OLIVO/PASCUA YAQUI TRIBAL POLICE: So what we do was we would take them off the reservation. The nearest place, the nearest public place off the reservation is the Circle K down the road here.

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: At this Circle K just north of the reservation, police say they dropped off non-natives accused of domestic violence against Pascua Yaqui women. But with the Violence Against Women Act in place, things have changed.

MELVIN STOOF/ASSOCIATE JUDGE: This is very exciting. This is the cutting edge, and this is something I’d hoped for years ago and it’s finally come true.

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: In February, the Pascua Yaqui tribe was one of three tribes chosen for a pilot program, allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Indian offenders.

ALFRED URBINA/CHIEF PROSECUTOR, PASCUA YAQUI TRIBAL COURT: It’s going to take a while for the community to trust law enforcement, to trust the court system to bring justice.

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: And law enforcers admit there is more to be done, including cases on non-natives and child abuse.

MELVIN STOOF/ASSOCIATE JUDGE: Unfortunately the limitations of the special VAWA  jurisdiction limits it to intimate partner violence. Perhaps in the future that’s the next step.

MEGAN GUTHRIE/CRONKITE NEWS: But for now, officers like Olivo feel empowered to better serve and protect.

LT. HECTOR OLIVO/PASCUA YAQUI TRIBAL POLICE: They’re showing the bad guys, the suspects, you’re not going to get away with this.

KATRINA  ARROYOS/CRONKITE NEWS: In March of next year, 566 of the federally recognized Indian tribes will be eligible for the Violence Against Women Act.