Tribal court complaint raises jurisdictional issue

By Wayne Ortman
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) August 2010

The government wants a judge to block the Yankton Sioux Tribal Court from proceeding with a tribal member’s civil rights complaint against two Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said the tribe does not have jurisdiction over the United States or its employees and allowing the complaint to go forward would make it harder for the BIA to recruit and retain police officers.

Gail Hubbeling says in her tribal court complaint that the police officers violated her right to free speech when they arrested her for disorderly conduct and obstructing an investigation into a reckless driving report. Hubbeling is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

The government asked U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier to temporarily block the tribal court from ordering the officers to appear at an Aug. 2 hearing. Schreier granted the request after a tribal judge said it would be postponed while the issue is pending in federal court.

The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment beyond its court filings in which it says the Federal Tort Claims Act is the proper avenue for Hubbeling to pursue her complaint. The public has an interest in preserving the sovereign immunity of the United States and in upholding federal law officers, the government’s lawyers say.

“Fighting crime in Indian Country is a national law enforcement priority,” government attorneys say in the filings. “Law enforcement efforts will be hindered if we allow individual tribal members to bring suits in tribal court against BIA officers for actions taken during the scope of their official duties.”

The government said BIA officers Marlin Mousseau Jr. and Johnny Duran went to Hubbeling’s residence while on duty around 4:45 a.m. on June 2. They had received a report that a vehicle registered to Hubbeling had gone onto the sidewalk and hit trash cans in front of a house.

Hubbeling said she was arrested after a verbal exchange with the officers over who had been driving the vehicle.

In her complaint, she said she is protesting the officers for their “extreme misuse of authority (and) for unlawful and egregious violations of my civil rights (freedom of speech).”