By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – City officials agree Tupelo police will stay off Yakama Indian Nation lands in Washington State.
The City Council approved the decision Tuesday night, apparently as a condition to settle a 2011 lawsuit after federal and local authorities stormed the Indians’ reservation two years ago.
The law enforcement assault, which included officers from Tupelo and Marshall County, sought data, documents, money, address books, recordings, antique vehicles and other items federal authorities alleged were significant to their investigation of illegal tobacco dealings.
FBI Agent Matthew A. Bullwinkel of Tupelo reportedly led what they termed “the invasion,” although two months later Bullwinkel was dismissed as a defendant.
The confederated tribes and bands sued in March 2011 against Attorney General Eric Holder, the U.S. Department of Justice and numerous other agencies, officials and local jurisdictions involved with the raid.
They insisted that the Feb. 16, 2011, raid – without prior notice – violates the 1855 Treaty With the Yakama.
The treaty, they said, guaranteed that U.S. citizens would not “enter upon” the lands near Yakima, Wash.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern U.S. District of Washington State, said the only notice given for the action was a text message to a tribe employee minutes before it occurred.
As it relates to Tupelo, Marshall County and other non-federal officers, they “had no jurisdiction” or authority to “intrude” upon the reservation trust lands, the lawsuit insisted.
“Several of the agents who invaded the Nation are based in Mississippi and Virginia, meaning that the invasion was planned for weeks, if not months, ahead of its occurrence,” the tribe noted.
A few Yakama Tribe leaders involved with King Mountain Tobacco Co. were under investigation by the Oxford-based U.S. Attorney’s Office as part of a multi-state conspiracy aimed at avoiding federal and state taxes on tobacco products.
The scope of the investigation began to be revealed in early 2009 when two Tupelo area warehouses were raided and millions of cigarette products were seized.
Arrests and convictions followed with property and cash forfeitures coming from the dozen or so defendants.
In July 2009, seized products were sold at auction outside Tupelo.