PIERRE — Marlin Enno, chief of police for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, sees the meth problem every day on the reservation. The same is true for FBI special agent Dan Cooper, who’s worked meth cases in South Dakota for 16 years.
But what’s the best way to deal with the situation? The two didn’t see eye to eye in their testimony to a South Dakota legislative panel Wednesday.
Cooper said arrests made in the past could be used years later to build evidence for conspiracy prosecutions. “Bigger bang for the buck” was his explanation to members of the Legislature’s State-Tribal Relations Committee.
His point was that many law enforcement agencies, whether tribal or local or even the state Department of Public Safety, either don’t join drug task forces or drop in and out.
The key, Cooper said, is people remaining “fully invested.”
“We’re not coordinated, we’re not working together, we’re not sharing information,” Cooper said.
Enno returned in 2015 as chief of the Rosebud Sioux tribal police. He was previously head of the tribe’s narcotics division.
“I really can’t afford for my guy to be with them,” Enno said about the Safe Trails and Northern Plains task forces that cover Indian country and the Missouri River counties of South Dakota. “We’re out to get the dealer. When you work with Northern Plains, they’re out for the conspiracy. I need to stop the sales on the reservations that are killing our people right now.”
He added: “You look at the reality of who’s committing these crimes. It’s not the dealers, it’s the users.”
Preston Patterson, an agent for the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, is an FBI special agent. He told the committee it is “extremely difficult” for Cooper, two DCI agents and the recent additions of two federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officers to focus on investigations with limited resources.
Patterson said getting more help, even if part time, would be “substantial in our efforts to curb the problems that we face.”
Rep. Elizabeth May, R-Kyle, said she’s taken information — “when, where, how, who” — to the U.S. attorney office in Rapid City but hasn’t seen action.
May said she shut down the Western Union money order machine in her store on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation because people were transmitting cash by the wad to Mexico. “I’m right in the middle of it,” May said.
She has a nephew in prison for criminal activity related to drugs. “My community is in dire straits. People are dying,” she said.
May said some government group — she mentioned the committee as a possibility — needs to bring all of the law enforcement agencies together.
Federal agencies haven’t learned yet to work together on fighting against drugs, according to Cooper. He said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration hasn’t attached itself “full time” to the reservations at this point.
Rep. Craig Tieszen, a Republican, was Rapid City police chief before he won election as a legislator. “The message today is cooperation works,” he said. “The greatest ally for criminals is jurisdictions.”
Oglala Sioux Tribal President Troy “Scott” Weston is ramping up partnerships between the tribe and federal law enforcement entities in a bid to stem the tide of drug-related violence on Pine Ridge. Along those lines, tribal government has allowed U.S. Attorney Randolph Seiler to set up an office at the Center for Justice in Pine Ridge where tribal members can report crimes and ask questions about ongoing prosecutions.
Meth has led to an increase in violent behavior among the drug’s abusers since it first arrived on the reservation in 2014, according to Justin Hooper, a special drug enforcement agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Northern Plains Safe Trails Drug Task Force.
That year, Pine Ridge saw 14 drug-related offenses prosecuted, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn N. Rich. In 2016, the number spiked to 37. There have been two drug-related offenses so far this year, a number that is only expected to rise to levels comparable to last year.
Tieszen said a shortage of resources and political considerations are “the elephant in the room.” He surmised that it might be easier for South Dakota prosecutors to have a suspect extradited from Canada or Mexico than from Pine Ridge.
“We see what meth is doing to our communities,” said Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, who is also chairman of the state-tribal relations committee. “When it hit, it hit hard.”
Heinert, a Rosebud tribal member, described how meth tore apart people on the Rosebud reservation and how he holds his 10-year-old’s hand in the middle of the day in the grocery store because he doesn’t know what the other guy in the aisle is going to do.
“That’s our home, and we shouldn’t be held prisoner in our home or our reservation,” Heinert said.