Inyo Sheriff: ‘This is not a sovereignty issue’

By Deb Murphy

Press releases issued by the Bishop Paiute Tribe and the Inyo County District Attorney’s office regarding the arrest of a tribal law enforcement officer may have raised more questions than they answered.

Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze

Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze

Daniel Johnson was arrested in early January for what appeared to be doing his job detaining a person for violation of tribal and state court orders to “have no contact with a tribal member.” But, like life, nothing’s ever that simple.

The facts of the case, according to Sheriff Bill Lutze are: Johnson responded to a call on Dec. 24 and requested assistance from the Sheriff’s Department. When county officers arrived at the scene, Johnson had, allegedly, used a stun gun on the individual, removed her from a vehicle and put her in his squad car. The subject filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Department; following an investigation, the case was reviewed by the DA and three felony and one misdemeanor charges were filed.

“Tribal enforcement officers only have the authority to enforce tribal ordinances,” Lutze said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “This is not a sovereignty issue. We’re working our issues out.”

According to District Attorney Tom Hardy, the fact that Johnson was enforcing a tribal order was “generally not relevant. The amount and type of force in taking action is relevant.”

Hardy went on to say that “tribal orders are civil in nature” and violators can only be issued citations for failure to comply. Hardy emphasized that Johnson was presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

Public Law 280, passed by Congress and in effect since 1952, gives six states’, including California, law enforcement agencies the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute cases arising from actions within reservation boundaries.

The Bishop Paiute Tribe’s press release expressed its continued support of Johnson. Calls to Tribal administrators were referred to the Tribal chairman. His comments will be reported by Sierra Wave Media.


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27 Responses to Inyo Sheriff: ‘This is not a sovereignty issue’

  1. Low-Inyo March 2, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    Just maybe this all has more to it than just where it took place and who did it.Just because someone is a Law Enforcement officer doesn’t mean it’s all O.K. and legal to use a stun-gun on a person…..which seems did happen here…and possibly use excessive force to pull someone out of a vehicle,bully them, and detain them, like what MIGHT have happened here,whether it’s a tribal officer or anyone in Law Enforcement,for that matter.There is a right way and a wrong way for LE to make an arrest,as recent National news stories tell us lately.Since this tribal officer was arrested,my bet is he went about it the wrong way.We all know of Law Enforcement officers (thankfully,a small number of them) that over-step their boundries and think they can do as they please when making an arrest or ,in my own case,when pulled over a few years back and accused of being high on drugs by a CHP in Independence that seemed to use his authority “over me” as a training-lesson for his partner.

  2. Eastern Sierra local February 22, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    Looks like the paleface don’t like the redskins. I thought we were over all this stuff. It’s the 21st. Century for god sake. Inyo county get over it.

    A legitimate officer getting charge with misrepresentation of a public officer. Do you really think that the tribal officer said he was other than a Tribal police.

    Sheriff lutz and DA hardy I am sure that there is better things to do with taxpayers money.

  3. BIG Rick O'Brien February 21, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

    To anyone who thinks that tribal cops aren’t REAL cops, try driving over 50 MPH on Highway 95 between Hawthorne and Fallon, Nevada . They have REAL radar units, they have REAL patrol cars that say POLICE on them, they wear REAL guns and badges, and they write REAL tickets that you will pay on the spot if you’re not a Nevada resident…REALLY !

  4. Trouble February 21, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

    I for one, think we have way to many police, sheriffs, CHP, game wardens and badges running around Bishop. Anybody ever count how many we have stationed within a couple hundred yards of each other. Can we count the Tribal Police as real peace officers? Did someone really say we need more patrols on Main St. ?

    • Charles O. Jones February 22, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

      You think there’s too many? Well that’s no surprise coming from the guy who has expressed a general disdain for following the rules and a desire to pester his neighbors, etc. If ever you wonder why there is a presence of law enforcement – just look in the mirror.

      There are plenty of lawless places in this world, perhaps you’d be more comfortable one of them rather than living in a civilized society.

      • Trouble February 22, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

        Oh Charles, a police state is not a good place to raise kids. I have no police record (minus minor traffic tickets) and can’t stand either of our given parties. I’m not a saint, but I’m not uncivilized. I raised my family, paid my taxes and stayed out of jail. i’d bet we could hire two teachers for ever one peace officer we have doing figure eights around our two local bars ever night.

        I don’t dislike our police, but I don’t really like the majority of our legal system. Overkill in my book!

        • Charles O. Jones February 22, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

          Anyone who claims we live in a police state has no concept of the true meaning of that phrase. Your flippant use of this term is an insult to all those who have suffered in true police states – either past or present. You just don’t know how good you’ve got it Trouble.

          That said, I’m sure we’d get along fine if we were neighbors – regardless of how badly you wanted to be annoying. 🙂

          • sugarmagnolia February 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

            depends on your perspective Charlie O. Compared to a third world country run by a dictator, we don’t have a police state. Compared to the ideas espoused by our founding fathers and the history of our country, we are perilously close to a police state or in one!

          • Charles O. Jones February 24, 2015 at 7:34 am #


            Police State: “A state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the people, especially by means of a secret police force.”

            With all due respect – this isn’t even close to the world I live in. I enjoy social, economic and political freedoms on a daily basis. And I have never been repressed or even had any dealings with a “secret police force”.

            I have however traveled to several places that have been under a police states rule. In no way did those places even remotely resemble the life and the freedoms we enjoy here in the US.

            So yes, it’s a matter of perspective. And my personal experiences on both sides of this topic have contributed to my perspective.

  5. Buck Turgidson February 21, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    It looks to me like some Sheriff employees made a mistake and now the DA and the Sheriff are compounding the mistake by insisting it wasn’t.

    Bottom line, tribal police are not different from Bishop PD in terms of liablility, training and jurisdiction and there’s no reason the County should treat them differently.

    I have a question for the DA and the Sheriff: Why was the arrest of the tribal officer removed from your citizens website? Is the citizens website there for accountability and transparency or is it just a propaganda tool for you to use when it appears to benefit your interests?

    • Desert Tortoise February 21, 2015 at 11:39 am #

      Maybe not the same jurisdiction as a state chartered LEO. Their jurisdiction is their tribe and they are restricted to enforcing tribal and Federal laws on their reservation. State and local police enforce state and local laws but they have to be careful as they don’t have jurisdiction usually over tribal members on tribal lands and cannot enforce tribal laws but do have jurisdiction over non-tribal members. Some of the laws are confusing and contradictory. PL 280 would seem to be in conflict with basic tribal sovereignty laws and so far no court has wanted to go there. They have danced around the issue. Maybe this time?

      • Buck Turgidson February 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

        That is incorrect Dessert Tortoise. Now have another cream puff.

  6. Charles O. Jones February 20, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the real court system. Meanwhile, I’ll ignore all the legal interpretations from the arm-chair lawyers on the internet.

  7. Bone February 20, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    Why do you think the res cops have to call the sheriff when the call is more than a barking dog? It is because they are not really cops. Not that the officer has not taken required training, but the res does not have all that is required to be real police. They have no right to pull you over, have POLICE written on their cars or uniforms, or open carry a weapon. If the tribe would like to operate their own jail and judical system and meet all legal requirements as to a real police department I am quite sure that ICSO would be happy to not have to respond to all the domestics, drunken, dog fights, and murders on the res. As a matter of record at this point res cops are no more than self glorified mall security, not due to the officers ability or training, but the reservations requirements to legally self police the res. This will have to play out and it will be some time before we see the final outcome. No one wants any hard feelings between the DA, ICSO, or the tribe but we can not citizens civil rights to be violated.

    • Miles February 20, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

      Bone you are a complete moron; Tribal police are REAL police. The only reason they have to call the ICSO when something happens is because California is a PL 280 state. It is obvious that you work for the good ole boys club (ICSO) as your racism is shining through with ever word of you post. Who are you to say how a the government in a SOVEREIGN nation is supposed to govern itself or how they are to POLICE their own lands. The Inyo County Sheriff would not take his police officers and go into Canada, Mexico or any other country and tell them how they are to run their governments. So what gives him the right to come into PAIUTE COUNTRY and tell the tribe how they are supposed to govern their COUNTRY. I find your statement “If the tribe would like to operate their own jail and judicial system and meet all the legal requirements as to a real police department I am quite sure that ICSO would be happy to not have to respond to all the domesticis, drunken, dog fights, and murders on the res” to be completely ridiculous. If the ICSO were doing their jobs and arresting non-natives who go onto the reservation and break the law then the Tribal police would not have to do the job for them!!! But then again as far as the ICSO is concerned it not considered a crime when a non-native is violating the law on the reservation right!!!

    • Miles February 20, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

      Bone I personally find your comments to be highly insulting and racist. For you to insinuate that that all natives are nothing more than drunken violent murderers is sickening!

    • Desert Tortoise February 21, 2015 at 11:34 am #

      Tribal police have to graduate a Federal law enforcement academy and are supervised by the BLM. Tribes can either have BLM LEOs patrol the reservation or create their own police force under the authority and supervision of the BLM. This particular officer is also a POST graduate. He is a real LEO, like a sheriffs deputy or Chippie.

      • John March 2, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

        I don’t think you mean the Bureau of Land Management supervises them, you mean the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA has its own police force on some reservations where the tribe has not and does not want to establish their own PD. Both the BIA and BLM are Department of the Interior agencies, but it is the BIA that has jurisdiction on Indian reservations.

      • John March 2, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

        BIA employees train at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) located in Artesia, New Mexico. The title of their basic training is something like: “Federal and Tribal Law Enforcement programs in Indian Country. BLM Rangers, Park Rangers, Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers and Refuge Officers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service take a course called “Land Management Police” at FLETC, Glynco, Georgia.

        Of the four land management agencies mentioned, I worked for two of them during my career. I worked with officers in the other two. I was never far from an Indian Reservation and have observations of what they face.

        You mentioned that you think there are too many law enforcement officers in and around Bishop and included game wardens in the mix. There are not enough game wardens in California or any other states. They are part of what is called “The Thin Green Line.” This consists of law enforcement officers who enforce natural resource laws in the U.S. They are spread very thin and each officer covers huge areas. I was part of The Thin Green Line in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and California during my career. Many people, including those who live in small rural town, don’t respect the law and don’t respect the resources. The number and type of violations it. Locals commit them at a much higher rate than the visitors.

        On the highways people drive too fast and disregard the rights and safety of other motorists. They drive through towns at 45-55 mph or more. I’m glad the Bishop PD is watching the bars as I’ve responded to a few drunk driver traffic accidents as an EMT.

        Obviously we disagree, however, I don’t think you’ve been out, such as on a ride along with an officer, to see what is happening around us. I’ve been on several ride along shifts with other agencies and have had some ride along people with me. Those who have ridden with me are always surprised. I retired a few years ago and no longer have to deal the sweethearts anymore.

  8. JaneE February 20, 2015 at 7:35 am #

    Apparently the law is designed to make sure than non-natives are never charged with crimes on tribal lands, and the Native American victims have no recourse, even on their own lands. Even trying to enforce a restraining order issued by a state court is apparently forbidden to Native Americans. So much for American justice.

  9. Desert Tortoise February 20, 2015 at 6:37 am #

    Methinks the Sheriff and DA have bitten off more than they can chew. This thing has the potential to metastasize if other tribes decide to assist Bishop Paiute Tribe and challenge the authority of non tribal LEOs to enforce state laws on tribal lands where one would think tribal and Federal law prevail.

  10. MK February 19, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

    As you probably guessed I am not a Native American , You have my support though.
    Something really is wrong here and I think it is the Inyo DA.

    Does the Sheriff really disregard the Tribal police as being official police other than some Mall Rent a cop!

  11. The Aggressive Progressive February 19, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    I don’t think it is my lack of knowledge that encourages the feeling of how this makes no sense…
    No Sheriff Your wrong! it is a Sovereignty issue, when have tribes ever been fully granted sovereignty and self determination? and this case when a tribal officer is acting within reasonable grounds to keep the peace, this happens…. come on now?
    Here’s a little copy and paste from a article on similar case’s within the country; Tribal police cannot charge non-Indians with a crime on tribal land — only the U.S. attorney’s Office can. Tribal leaders say that in too many cases, no charges are filed at all.

    • The Aggressive Progressive February 20, 2015 at 8:27 am #

      I’m just tryin to point out that when tribes do utilize “tribal sovereignty”, it is shut down and disrespected with many many roadblocks that cripple the definition, happens throughout the nation… not just here in inyo county…
      Considering the Bishop Paiute Tribe backs Officer Johnson, this looks bad on the county, considering the circumstance, and all the benefits the Tribe gives to the community (jobs, economic opportunity, revenue, etc..), I think the DA and Inyo County Sheriffs Office better re-think their business as usual approach in this case.

      I’m open for discussion.. or a thumbs down works too ;-).

  12. TRUTH February 19, 2015 at 3:47 pm #



  13. MK February 19, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    Sounds like a bunch of conflicting laws and not rising to felony charges on a Veteran Tribal police officer.

    We are to believe that the violator of the restraining order was doing nothing at all.

    I always thought that a violation of a restraining order could get you in the pokey.



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