Cherokee Press Association
by Donna Hales,
Copyright © 1998 Muskogee Phoenix
The Cherokee chief and the tribe's personnel director were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice Thursday in Cherokee Nation District Court.
"I have delayed filing it because I had hoped they would stop, but they just continue to obstruct justice," said tribal prosecutor A.Diane Blalock. "It all started within minutes after the search warrant."
Blalock referred to a search warrant the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service executed Feb.25 to seize evidence from tribal offices of alleged misappropriation of funds.
The 182,000 member Cherokee Nation, the second-largest tribe in the United States, has been in turmoil since the evidence was seized.
Principal Chief Joe Byrd immediately retaliated by firing the top two individuals in the Marshal Service. The Judicial Appeals Tribunal, the tribe's highest court, promptly reinstated them and ordered no one interfere with the Marshal Service as it assisted with the investigation.
In response to the criminal charge filed against him Thursday. Byrd reiterated he had done nothing to impede the investigation.
"We have done everything that we could to cooperate," Byrd said.
"It will be shown that our actions are legal and appropriate and we look forward to the opportunity to vigorously defend our actions in court before an impartial panel."
Byrd announced last week he would obey only court orders he considered legal orders.
The complaints against Byrd and Personnel Director Ervin Rock allege they conspired with each other and in some instances with other tribal officials, including: Inspector General James R. "Bob" Powell, Chief of Staff George Thomas and Secretary-Treasurer Jennie Battles.
Powell is not an Indian and cannot be charged criminally in tribal court.
Thomas and Battles were arrested Tuesday for contempt of court and ordered to jail for 90 days or until they agree to obey the court's orders.
"They were released from jail in Muskogee about 3 1/2 hours after their incarceration on a technicality. New arrest warrants have been issued. Their attorney told the tribunal Wednesday he has not been able to locate them.
Tribunal Justice Philip H. Viles, Jr. sent the media an analysis of Byrd's response to hearing Wednesday in which Byrd claimed victory.
Viles said that out of five court matters, two were moot and three resulted in rulings against the chief.
"If he considers this a victory, what would he consider to be a defeat?" the justice asked.
"I do not speak for the court, I speak only for myself, unable to abide his spin on the facts any longer, without public comment," Viles wrote.
He contends Byrd's press release "suggests a man out of touch with the facts and unable to grasp the gravity of the legal situation he is in."
Byrd's release repeated his denial he is hindering the investigation, saying: "I know in my heart that I am doing what is right for the Cherokee people."
Viles disagreed writing:
"What you are doing is NOT right for the Cherokee people. The chief, like all Cherokee citizens, must obey all laws of the Cherokee Nation and all orders of the court. He is not above the law."
Two former Cherokee chiefs, Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller, have denounced Byrd's refusal to obey the court's orders.
Swimmer Thursday called for Byrd to apologize to the court and reinstate the marshals he fired.
Mankiller described Byrd's behavior last week as an outrageous defiance of tribal law.
Thursday she said she was not surprised to hear he had been charged with obstruction of justice.
"I just think it's the progression of things, Mankiller said. "I don't think Diane (Blalock) had any choice. He is not above the law."
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