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Iowa Supreme Court: State jurisdiction applies to non-Indians charged on Meskwaki Settlement

October 4, 2019
By John Speer - Editor (jspeer@tamatoledonews.com) , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Crimes committed by what the Iowa Supreme Court identifies as "non-Indians" on the Meskwaki Settlement are subject to trial in Iowa District or Magistrate courts.

That order handed down by the court on Sept. 13 reverses what Tama County Magistrate Richard Vander Mey had ruled in January. He threw out the case of Jessica Rae Stanton, 42, Marshalltown, who had been accused of three violations by Meskwaki Nation Tribal Police.

Vander Mey based his ruling on a U.S. Congressional action signed by President Trump on Dec. 11, 2018, which placed legal jurisdiction for the Meskwaki Settlement in the control of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki).

Article Photos

Tama County Magistrate Richard Vander Mey

In 1948, federal legislation had put the responsibility for Settlement jurisdiction in the control of the State of Iowa.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling issued this month says this legislation "left undisturbed state court criminal jurisdiction involving criminal acts involving non-Indians existing prior to the passage of the 1948 Act." In 1948, the U.S. congress had turned over all Settlement jurisdiction to the State of Iowa.

At the time of the Supreme court hearing on the case on July 11, Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren told The News-Herald "The investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses on the Tama Settlement should be handled by the federal government or the tribe - depending on the race of the defendant and victim. If the defendant is a Native American, the case should be handled in tribal court. If the defendant is not Native American, the case should be handled in federal court."

Stanton contended in filings in the Supreme Court case the state doesn't have jurisdiction on the Settlement because no legislation providing for it has been enacted. The Court rejected her argument saying legislation other than what is in place is not necessary.

In the case, Meskwaki Police had charged Stanton, then age 41, Marshalltown, with trespassing, violation of a no contact order and possession of drug paraphernalia. The court records on file at the time show Stanton had been charged on Dec. 13, 2018, at 11:12 p.m. at 1504 305th Street, Tama, the address of the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel by Meskwaki Nation Tribal Police, and she was taken into custody.

Magistrate Vander Mey dismissed the charges and ordered her release from custody.

However, a check of court records on Wednesday, Sept. 25, found no charges or actions against Stanton in Tama County courts.

Law Enforcement On Settlement

Complicating the law enforcement matters on the Settlement is the Dec. 13, 2018, directive of Meskwaki Attorney General Jay Finch. In a Dec 13 letter to Sheriff Dennis Kucera, Finch wrote, in part, "In the future we would kindly and respectfully request that you inform your officers that they are only to come onto the Settlement if they are invited or first notify the Meskwaki Nation Police Department."

He also told Kucera in the letter, "your department has no jurisdiction serving state subpoenas on individuals on the Settlement, and in particular on tribal operation and casino employees. As a sovereign government, the tribe's employees are immune from service of process of state subpoenas unless the subpoena has been recognized first by the tribal court.

Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera told The News-Herald on Tuesday in reaction to the Supreme court ruling, "No changes as yet. Not sure how the judges are going to handle going forward after the Supreme Court Ruling.

Finch's Dec. 13 letter also said, "Hence forth all subpoenas from any Iowa Court will not be honored unless tribal code is followed. This also includes service of process on the Meskwaki Nation Police Department. In the interests of law enforcement, we will however honor a written request for our officers to appear in state court as long as it is not titled "Subpoena."

"But Meskwaki Police still want to pursue an agreement which makes it difficult to even consider talking after their AG letter. We will respond to very serious situation to assist.

"In the event a native person on the Settlement has an outstanding state or federal warrant your department can no longer arrest the person on the Settlement. When your department has an outstanding warrant for an individual's arrest who resides or is found on the Settlement they can only be arrested by the Meskwaki Nation Tribal Police Department. Under tribal code, the person must be brought first before the tribal court and handled pursuant to the tribe's extradition process. Please note that this does not apply to non-native individuals and that those individuals once apprehended by MNPD on the Settlement will be turned over to your jail for processing immediately. In the event your officers become aware of a native person who has an outstanding state or federal warrant we would be more than happy to arrest that person as we do not want the community to become a refuge for criminals trying to evade the law."

Directives to Tama Co. Sheriff Kucera from Meskwaki Attorney General Finch:

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