2 Indicted in Killing of Salt River Police Officer
Two suspects in the slaying of Salt River police Officer Jair Cabrera have been indicted by a federal grand jury.
Two of three men who authorities said were inside a car stopped by a Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community police officer before he was shot to death have been indicted on first-degree murder charges by a federal grand jury.
Elijah Loren Arthur Sr., 33 the accused gunman, and Joey Michael Thomas, 21, identified in tribal court records as the car’s driver, face a potential life sentence if convicted of murder in the slaying of Officer Jair Cabrera, who was gunned down with a rifle in the parking lot of a convenience store parking lot at 3 a.m. on May 24.
Cabrera’s tragic slaying spotlighted the shortcomings of a separate but unequal tribal justice system created by a web of federal law and court rulings that limit the ability of tribes to prosecute felonies on reservations. The limits are under harsh attack nationally and an Arizona tribe in playing a pivotal role in reform efforts.
Cabrera, 37, an officer known for his sense of humor and his dedication in enforcing driving under the influence offences, was working on a Memorial Day weekend DUI crackdown. He became the first Salt River tribal officer killed in the line of duty.
Previously released tribal court records said the three gang members baited Cabrera into the fatal traffic stop, with Thomas driving with his high beams on and turning his lights on and off before Cabrera pulled him over near Pima and Chaparral roads.
Arthur had been previously charged in a federal complaint, which accused him of stepping out of a red Pontiac, resting an LAR-15 rifle on the roof, and firing a fatal shot that pierced the windshield of Cabrera’s patrol car before it fatally wounded him in the head.
The FBI had Arthur, Thomas and another passenger in the Pontiac, Russell L. Gutierrez, 36, in custody later that night. Thus far, Gutierrez has not been charged in federal court and faces only tribal charges.
But the indictment marks the first time Thomas was charged in federal court for his alleged role in the crime. Thomas was named in a complaint with similar charges filed in tribal court last month where he faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison because of federal restrictions on the prosecutorial authority of tribes.
The additional federal charges had been predicted last week by former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, ca staunch advocate of turning over more prosecutorial powers to Native American tribes that demonstrate they have the capacity to handle felonies.
The Indian Law & Order Commission, an advisory panel appointed by President Obama and Congress, recommended in November 2013 that tribes have the ability to opt out of federal prosecutorial control.
The Pascua Yaqui tribe near Tucson is a key participant in federal efforts to reform the system. It is one of only three tribes nationwide granted authority by the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute felony domestic cases involving Native Americans and non-Native Americans on the tribe’s reservation.
Charlton and Robert N. Clinton, professor of law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, argue that the Cabrera slaying demonstrate why tribes should have authority to handle felony cases in tribal courts without federal interference.
“I think the current system is antiquated and paternalistic,” Charlton said.
He said he believes that Native American communities would benefit greatly if they had a stake in developing and operating their own criminal justice systems, based upon their own standards of justice.
“I think it would provide the individuals who live in that community a sense of sovereignty and self direction,” Charlton said. “Once they show they have a sufficiently developed legal system, they can handle it,” he said.
“It’s a first step in the right direction.”
Clinton, who has served as a tribal judge for several tribes, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix has a better relationship with Arizona tribes than federal prosecutors in other states. He said that far too often federal prosecutors historically have declined prosecution on major crimes, refusing to prosecute or to turn over evidence to tribal authorities.
“They need to butt out and be more helpful. Right now, it’s a pretty hostile relationship” between federal agencies and the tribes, Clinton said.
He said that before the federal Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, the maximum sentence that could be imposed in a tribal court was one year in prison. Tribal judges would stack charges, imposing consecutive one year sentences on multiple offenses, to maximize penalties.
“Those of us involved with tribal law have been railing against these limitations for years, arguing that it creates the kind of lawlessness mess that you are seeing” on some reservations, Clinton said.
Fred Urbina, chief prosecutor for the Pascua Yaqui Indian Community near Tucson, said his tribe is only one of three nationally who have been granted authority to prosecute felony domestic-violence cases involving Native Americans and non-Native Americans.
Urbina said his office has prosecuted a dozen cases so far and is working diligently to regain the trust of community members, who were victimized in the past and never obtained justice because federal authorities failed to prosecute their attackers.
Urbina said the tribe’s cooperation with federal authorities is much improved, with a federal prosecutor assigned to his office so that authorities can overcome jurisdiction hurdles to seek justice for victims.
“The community develops a mistrust, whether it’s the federal government or the tribal government,” Urbina said. “It’s going to take some rebuilding” to regain the trust of crime victims that justice will be served.
He said his tribe is looking at the domestic violence pilot program as an important test that could lead to further tribal prosecution of additional felonies. It may also serve as a guide for the 40 tribes nationwide who have applied to prosecute domestic violence felonies, he said, including the Salt River and Gila River tribes near Phoenix.
Urbina said expanded ability to prosecute felonies give the tribes an opportunity to experience a more meaningful sense of sovereignty.
“You can’t be a sovereign nation if you can’t do the fundamental job of protecting your own people,” Urbina said. “You’re not really sovereign, your dependent.”
While most tribes would welcome more prosecutorial authority, many of them are too small or isolated to afford building and maintaining a sophisticated legal system with law-trained judges, prosecutors, public defenders and facilities capable of handling complicated trials, Urbina said.
Hallie Bongar White, executive director of the Southwest Center for Law and Public Policy, said it will take a great deal of effort and a new level of cooperation to improve justice on tribal lands. She said tribal justice is badly underfunded and the state suffers from a historical lack of cooperation between the tribes, federal authorities and state and local police.
“It’s life and death. We have serial murderers and not enough law enforcement,” she said. “There’s a history of mistrust. Why don’t people say, ‘I don’t want officers shot.”
Original Article can be found on AZCentral.com