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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Troopers storm tribe's smoke shop

JIM BARON, Journal Register News Service 07/15/2003

Gov. Donald L. Carcieri placed the blame for Monday's violent confrontation at the closing of the Narragansett Indians' tax-free smoke shop squarely on Chief Matthew Thomas and other tribe members.

Pronouncing himself "extraordinarily dismayed" by the actions of the tribe, Carcieri told a late afternoon press conference at T.F. Green Airport, "it is clear to me that the chief instigated this confrontation, he did nothing to prevent it, and did nothing to calm it down."

Asked what happened to the amicable relationship between his administration and the tribe that culminated in the governor's visit to the reservation last month, Carcieri said, "they lost the casino vote, that's all." A bill to allow a statewide vote on whether to have a gambling casino was passed by the House but died in the Senate two weeks ago.

Thomas, who was arrested along with seven other tribe members, one a juvenile, could not be reached for comment after his arrest.

Speaking on the radio before the raid and his arrest, Thomas said, "No, absolutely not," when asked if he would close the smoke shop on the order of a state court. "If a federal court says to close down, we will," the chief told WHJJ-AM's John DePetro. "If a state court does, we will not."

Thomas said the tribe, beset by financial difficulties and faced with a deficit at the end of this year, "held off as long as we could" waiting for economic development help from the state before opening the smoke shop. "We had to take issues into our own hands."

Shortly before 2 p.m. on Monday, a phalanx of 20 State Troopers accompanied by three Charlestown police officers and German shepherds from the K-9 corps raided the shop, which had been selling cigarettes without charging state cigarette taxes or sales taxes, dropping the price to half or less that charged by stores that apply the state taxes.

Thomas could be seen on TV news clips grappling with State Police until four troopers brought him to the ground and handcuffed him. "This looks like Mississippi in the damn 60s," Thomas could be heard saying, referring to the violent and bloody civil rights demonstrations of that era. He could also be heard referring to the troopers as "a bunch of goons" and saying "you ought to be ashamed, Governor Carcieri," for the benefit of reporters and TV cameras.

Eight persons were reported injured in the melee; none of the injuries was considered serious.

State Police Col. Steven Pare said eight tribe members were arrested on charges of resisting arrest and misdemeanor assault on a police officer. All but one was released on personal recognizance, the other posted a bond, he said.

Carcieri said he gave the order for the search warrant to be executed.

"They have no sovereign immunity," Carcieri said of the Narragansetts. "Under federal law, Rhode Island law is in full force and effect on settlement lands." The governor acknowledged that the tribe disputes that interpretation, but said that is a matter to be dealt with in court.

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