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Distributed October 7, 2003
Contact Mark Nickel

Independent Review Committee releases report on Smoke Shop raid

The Independent Review Committee which reviewed the July 14 State Police raid on the Narragansett Tribe’s Smoke Shop has presented its final report to Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, with additional copies to the Chief Sachem of the Narragansett Tribe, the superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, and the Rhode Island attorney general. The executive summary of the report follows here.

Executive Summary: Report of The Independent Committee
on the July 14, 2003, Narragansett Smoke Shop Incident

The Independent Review Committee was created by Gov. Donald Carcieri on Friday, July 25, 2003, to “independently review the facts and circumstances leading up to and surrounding” the State Police raid on the Narragansett Indian smoke shop on July 14, 2003. The Committee conducted open interviews with principal participants in the incident, reviewed the history of state-tribe relations, and consulted available documents and experts concerning cigarette sales on tribal lands.

Members of the six-member committee were Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University (chair); Eugene G. Gallant, retired Superior Court associate justice; Rabbi Leslie Gutterman, Temple Beth-El, Providence, R.I.; Jacqueline J. Johnson, executive director, National Congress of American Indians, Washington, D.C.; Rev. Matthew Kai, executive minister, Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island; and Rear Adm. Barbara McGann, president, Rhode Island chapter, American Red Cross. Sanford Cloud Jr., Esq., president and chief executive of the National Conference for Community and Justice, served as adviser to the committee.

The committee’s report cites the following findings, among others:

  • Governor Carcieri’s instructions that the police should withdraw in the face of significant resistance were not well understood or known by all of the troopers taking part in the raid.
  • Tribal police were told by tribal leadership to resist the entrance of the State Police onto tribal land unless the State Police used excessive force. Other tribal members were given instruction to resist police in the absence of a federal warrant. The form that this resistance was to take was not made clear.
  • Undercover agents inside the smoke shop were out of contact with the State Police as the latter arrived at the smoke shop. Concern about the safety of these undercover agents inside the smoke shop was a primary consideration in the “storming” of the smoke shop.
  • The Governor, in attempting to find an alternative to the use of force, exhibited commendable leadership.
  • The confrontation resulted from many years of confusion and conflict over the legal and revenue producing status of tribal trust lands. Continued irresolution of this matter could lead to further problems.
  • Even in the context of federally recognized sovereignty, tribal leadership, in encouraging tribal police and members to resist the service of the warrant, exposed customers and tribal members to considerable risk of injury.
  • State Police, by failing to recognize the Tribal Police as trained and trusted law enforcement, failed to make use of their expertise to help calm the situation.
  • The Governor’s Office, by failing to consult with other states about how these matters had been resolved elsewhere, did not avail itself adequately of the resources available to help the State.
  • There was a discrepancy between the risk level assessment assigned to the undertaking and the number and type of police assigned to the operation. The risk assessment cited a moderate level of risk but the force deployed suggests a significantly higher risk assessment.
  • One reason given for the larger police force used to serve the warrant was the presence of the Tribal Police who might pose a danger. This perception on the part of the State Police was detrimental to the conduct of the raid and needs to be addressed.
  • Many parties in the State Police and tribal membership exercised restraint during moments of chaos and evident danger.
  • State Police should have identified a clearer strategy for dealing with tribal leadership in a way that would not lead to an adverse reaction from tribal members.
  • The Tribe’s conclusion that a smoke shop was the most viable option for revenue can be understood in the context of a long history of conflict with the State. However, Tribal leaders should have better anticipated State action to close down the smoke shop and should have better prepared tribal members for such an action.
  • The parking lot of the smoke shop was not the appropriate forum to address longstanding issues of tribal rights.

Recommendations include the following:

  • The Governor should appoint an individual to develop expertise in Federal, State, and Tribal history and to establish a consistent relationship with tribal leaders.
  • State Police should review its relationship with the Tribal Police to enhance cooperation and respect.
  • The General Assembly should establish sub-committees to monitor legislation that affects the Narragansetts and to promote legislative initiatives that improve conditions for the Tribe and the State.
  • The Governor should create a State Commission of Tribal-State Relations.
  • The State and Tribe should make use of the extensive resources available on collaborative efforts between tribes and states.
  • The State and Tribe should focus on drafting a new compact that governs relations between the Tribe and State.
  • The State and Tribe should develop a specific agreement on cigarette taxes.
  • Leaders of the State and the Tribe should work to establish mutual respect and trust to reduce the chance of future confrontations.
  • The tone of interaction between the Tribe and State should take on a new direction and improved relations should be fostered through periodic meetings.
  • The Governor should devote appropriate resources for efforts to improve relations with the Narragansetts.
  • The Governor should develop with the Tribe a timeline for the implementation of these measures and communicate agreed-upon goals broadly.

The Committee submitted its report to Gov. Carcieri on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2003. The Chief Sachem of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, the superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, and the Rhode Island attorney general also received the report.


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