Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey announced Thursday that he was revoking the power of tribal police officers to enforce state law and suspending a memorandum of understanding that had been in place between the tribe and the county for almost two decades. The issue, Downey said, is simply that the Hoopa Tribal Police Department didn’t have enough bodies in uniform.
Back in March, the tribe’s longtime police chief, Robert Kane, retired after 20 years with the department. At that time, Downey said, the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council wanted to ultimately disband the force and just have the sheriff’s department enforce laws on tribal lands. Consequently, Downey said he gave the tribe a 90-day notice that he would be suspending its MOU with the county.
But elections in April saw some new members seated to the tribal council, and things changed course, Downey said, telling him the tribe was intent on maintaining its own police department. The sheriff said he extended the 90-day notice to give the tribe more time to recruit additional qualified officers and bring its department back to full staffing. Since then, Downey said, one officer was put on restricted duty and another, Sgt. Seth Ruiz, fatally shot a suspect on Sept. 4, necessitating his being placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. That left the department with only one qualified officer on active duty, Downey said, a situation that necessitated Thursday’s announcement.
“Tribal officers are no longer authorized to enforce state law,” Downey said, “but I’m working with the tribal council. If or when they get to the point where they have an adequate number of qualified personnel, we’ll again look at revitalizing that MOU.”
Attempts to reach the Hoopa Tribe for comment were unsuccessful Thursday and Friday.
Moving forward, Downey said he’ll have three additional deputies assigned to the Hoopa and Willow Creek area by mid October, bringing the total to six, in addition to a sergeant and a corporal also assigned to the area. Asked if this move will put an additional strain on limited resources, with outlying areas of the county already complaining of inadequate patrols, Downey said he doesn’t think so. Thanks to funding from the county’s recently passed sales tax, Measure Z, Downey said the department has already brought on a couple of new hires, with six more in a training program.
“And, we’re in the process of hiring more as we speak,” Downey said. “Measure Z has helped out immensely.”
Downey has arranged to hold a pair of community meetings in the area to discuss the change. The first will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 6 at the American Legion Hall in Hoopa and the second will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 7 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Willow Creek.
See the full press release from the Sheriff’s Office below:
Subject: Hoopa Valley Tribal Police Department
Roughly twenty years ago the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Hoopa Valley Tribe entered into an agreement that the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police Department will maintain the state standards to enforce state law. Due to the lack of qualified officers to fulfill the Sheriff’s Office mission, the Sheriff has opted to suspend the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and has revoked peace officers powers from the tribal officers as of Wednesday, September 23, 2015.
According to Public Law 83-280 (PL 280), the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for enforcing state laws on tribal lands. As a result, the Sheriff has increased personnel in the Hoopa and Willow Creek areas and by mid-October three additional deputies will be assigned to these areas. This will bring the total number of deputies in this area to six, plus one Sergeant and one Corporal.
The Sheriff has arranged for two community meetings. The first will be on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall in Hoopa. The second meeting will be on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Willow Creek. The Sheriff will be present to address this issue.
The Sheriff is committed to providing enhanced patrol coverage and service to the citizens of Hoopa and Willow Creek. It is strongly encouraged for Hoopa and Willow Creek residents to attend either of these meetings.
The days of Hoopa having its own police department may be over.