Investigator: deputies discriminated against

Great Falls, Montana (AP) May 2010

An investigator for the state Human Rights Bureau found reasonable cause that five Glacier County sheriff’s deputies who are Caucasian were discriminated against when the county and the Blackfeet Tribe signed a cross-deputization agreement.

A report by bureau investigator Ilka Becker said under the agreement, the tribe commissioned Native American deputies who lived on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, a Caucasian deputy married to a Native American and a black deputy to be tribal officers, but not the other white deputies.

An initial agreement was reached last July for deputies to help tribal police on the reservation during the North American Indian Days powwow. County Commissioner Michael DesRosier said the tribe only wanted to include resident deputies because they were easy to reach.

The five deputies who were not commissioned complained about the agreement, which was signed on Aug. 6. Tribal and county officials said the agreement was only temporary and that other deputies would be commissioned.

The excluded deputies filed a discrimination complaint in October, stating Glacier County entered into an agreement that sanctioned discriminatory practices.

Becker found no evidence of malicious intent, but said county officials were liable for discrimination.

Undersheriff Jeff Fauque said he and the four other deputies are trying to settle with Glacier County while also making sure something similar doesn’t happen again.

The report states that Glacier County officials denied discriminating against the deputies because the agreement was withdrawn less than three weeks after it was signed and that the Blackfeet tribe decided who received the “commission cards.” The county also argued the agreement was void because it hadn’t been approved by the attorney general and was signed by only one county commissioner.

Blackfeet Tribal Attorney Sandra Watts has said that the tribe has the legal right to determine whom it authorizes to enforce tribal laws on the reservation.

The deputies and the county have 30 days from when the ruling was issued late last month to reach a settlement. If they cannot, a hearing will be held.