San Bernardino County Sheriff

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 08/10/15 – 8:15 PM PDT |

The Chemehuevi Indian Tribe has filed a federal lawsuit alleging San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies are racially profiling tribal members and targeting them for traffic citations on their reservation, without the jurisdictional power to do so.

The lawsuit was filed on July 30 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of the tribe and tribal members Chelsea Lynn Bunim, Tommie Robert Ochoa, Jasmine Sansoucie and Naomi Lopez. It names as defendants Sheriff John McMahon, Deputy Ronald Sindelar, District Attorney Michael Ramos, County Counsel Jean-Rene Basle, and Deputy County Counsel Miles Kowalski.

The Chemehuevi reservation spans 32,000 acres and borders the Colorado River near Lake Havasu, on the California side of the California/Arisona border.

According to the lawsuit, Sindelar pulled each of the plaintiffs over on Havasu Lake Road for various driving offenses including driving with expired registration tags, driving on a suspended license, and speeding.

In some of the cases, the vehicles were impounded and towed to Needles while the plaintiffs were left standing on the side of the road. Some of the plaintiffs had to pay hundreds of dollars to get their vehicles out of impound, according to the lawsuit.

Bunim was cited for driving with expired registration. She filed a motion for dismissal on grounds the Sheriff’s Department did not have jurisdiction to cite her.

In a motion opposing Bunim’s request, Deputy County Counsel Miles Kowalski said Bunim’s assertion was “untenable and legally indefensible.” He said the location where Bunim was pulled over and cited was not on the reservation and in a neighborhood where residents pay property taxes to the county.

“In this case, allowing the county to enforce basic traffic safety laws on county maintained roads within the reservation does not ‘impermissibly infringe’ on the Chemehuevi tribe’s powers of self-government, nor would it ‘result in the destruction of tribal institutions and values,’” Kowalski said in his motion.

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