Supreme Court wants negotiations in smoke shop case

Providence, Rhode Island (AP) 9-07

The criminal trial of seven Narragansett Indians arrested during a 2003 police raid on a tribal smokeshop has been indefinitely postponed so the state Supreme Court can hear an appeal from the governor.

Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl on Friday canceled the upcoming trial because the state Supreme Court has said it would decide whether Gov. Don Carcieri must take the witness stand. In the same order, the judges asked both sides to negotiate with a court-appointed mediator.

Defense lawyers want Carcieri to testify about an order he said he gave to State Police instructing them to pull back if they met resistance from the Narragansetts or their supporters during the July 14, 2003, raid.

Instead, a fight erupted in the smoke shop parking lot. Seven Narragansetts, including Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, were arrested and charged with crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to assault.

McGuirl previously ruled that Carcieri’s testimony could be relevant when jurors decide if police used too much force when making arrests.

Carcieri’s attorney appealed, arguing the governor’s instructions were irrelevant and that executive privilege protected him from being forced onto the witness stand without good cause.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Oct. 30. In the meantime, it’s asked both sides to consider compromising.

Defense attorney William Devereaux said it’s unclear whether the court wants the mediation office to handle the dispute over the governor’s testimony or attempt to negotiate an end to the entire criminal case.

Narragansett leaders recently rejected a plea agreement that would have forced their chief sachem to accept some level of criminal responsibility but did not involve prison time, Devereaux said. He would not disclose other details about the proposal but said the tribe was willing to continue talks.

“We felt we were ready to compromise in a significant way,” he said.

On Thursday, Attorney General Patrick Lynch said in a written statement that his prosecutors had attempted to negotiate plea agreements with the Narragansetts but were unable to find any middle ground.