A Rhode Island State Police raid on the Narragansett Indian tribe’s newly opened tax-free smoke shop turned into a violent melee that sent eight tribal members to the hospital, another seven – including the chief – to jail and sparked a lawsuit against the state, according to local press reports.
State police used canines in raid. (Photo: WJAR-TV)
The tobacco shop opened on tribal land Saturday over the objections of Gov. Don Carcieri, who deems the shop illegal.
Yesterday, plainclothes officers served a search warrant on the shop. When tribal leaders refused to cooperate, nearly two dozen troopers stormed the area.
Two tribe members try to stop state cop from entering shop. (Photo: WJAR-TV)
WLNE television footage of the raid shows a line of troopers entering the parking lot of the shop pushing their way past resistant tribal members. Fists flew and troopers wrestled tribal leaders to the ground and handcuffed them. At one point, a trooper grabbed a tribal member standing guard outside of the smoke shop by the throat, while Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas grabbed the trooper from behind in a bear hug.
Six troopers took Thomas down to the dirt, according to the Providence Journal. He was taken into custody and charged with simple assault and resisting arrest, according to WLNE.
“To come down and physically do what they did, is absolutely appalling,” Thomas told reporters hours after his arrest. “I personally blame the governor of this state and I think he should be ashamed of the actions that took place down here.”
The chief told the Journal he and the governor talked throughout the weekend and that he sensed a showdown would happen yesterday.
“We’re sure the state is going to try something,” the Journal quotes the chief as saying. “If the state comes in here, they’re going to see a war like they haven’t since Wounded Knee.”
What unfolded reminded tribal leaders of the civil-rights clashes of the ’50s and ’60s.
But a resolute Carcieri told reporters at a separate news conference that while he regretted the hostilities the troopers had “every right and authority” to enter the premises and said he has launched a full investigation.
Carcieri further claimed the chief “instigated the confrontation.”
This morning, the tribe filed suit against the state, the state police and the governor, among others, claiming their rights were violated.
WPRI-TV reports the Narragansetts also asked the U.S. District Court to reaffirm the tribe is a sovereign nation and the state violated federal law when it confiscated tobacco products and $900 from the tobacco shop.
The Narragansetts have been federally recognized since 1983. Under federal law, Indian sales to Indians aren’t subject to government taxes, but sales to non-Indians are.
WLNE reports the closed shop represents $12 million a year in lost revenue to the tribe.
Citing the Settlement Act of 1978, Carcieri maintains that under federal law, the state laws are in effect on Narragansett settlement land.