W.S. cracks down on eluding
Two prosecuted in federal court
Warm Springs and federal officials are cracking down on people who attempt to elude police on the Warm Springs Reservation.
In separate cases within the past month, two Warm Springs tribal members have pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Portland to attempting to elude a police officer. Both are scheduled to be sentenced in February.
Under the Indian General Crimes Act, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland and the Warm Springs Police Department are cooperating to seek federal prosecution of tribal members who intentionally elude the police on the reservation.
"It's something we've just begun to do to enhance the law enforcement process on the reservation," said Craig Gabriel, assistant U.S. attorney. "We're trying to get the word out that if you attempt elude a police officer while driving your vehicle, then that's a federal felony that the U.S. Attorney's Office will prosecute."
Gabriel explained that each case will be reviewed, and only the most serious cases will be prosecuted federally. "We are most concerned about the defendants who elude officers under the influence, at high rates of speed and put the public and the pursuing officers in danger," he said.
In the first case, Sampson Tyler Price, 29, of Warm Springs, pleaded guilty Nov. 6 to fleeing from police on Aug. 16.
In the U.S. District Court in Portland, Gabriel recounted the events that led up to the charge. He said that the defendant drove off the Warm Springs Reservation on U.S. Highway 26, where a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy saw that he had expired tags.
"(Price) initially pulled over, but soon became combative, refused to follow commands, and got back into the vehicle without permission and drove back on to the reservation," said Gabriel.
On the reservation, Warm Springs police took over the pursuit of Price's car and activated sirens and overhead lights. "He eluded police at very high rates of speed on windy roads on the way to Seekseequa (south of the Agency area, near Lake Simtustus) for 10 miles," Gabriel said.
Eventually, Price turned onto a gravel road, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a creek. "From there, Price fled on foot," he said. "Officers did not locate him that day, but arrested him two months later on the federal charge."
Price was arrested Oct. 14, and made his initial appearance in federal court on Oct. 15, and pleaded guilty Nov. 6. He was released to a drug and alcohol treatment center in Portland on Nov. 7, but the following week, on Nov. 13, he walked away from the treatment center without authorization.
Warm Springs police rearrested Price on Nov. 16 on the reservation, where he faces additional tribal charges.
U.S. District Court Judge Garr M. King is scheduled to sentence Price on Feb. 6.
The other case involved Johnny Ellery Smith, 24, who pleaded guilty Nov. 14 to fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer on Sept. 22.
According to Gabriel, on that day, a Warm Springs officer saw a pickup truck weaving in and out of traffic and activated his lights. The driver of the pickup flipped off the police officer and drove off.
"Smith eluded the police at very high rates of speed for over 20 miles," said Gabriel. "Officers attempted to stop him with spike strips. Even after hitting the spike strips, he continued to elude officers for over seven miles."
After Smith stopped the car in the Charley Canyon area, he got out and fled to the canyon.
"A police dog followed Smith to a nearby embankment," he said. "Smith threatened the police dog with a knife. Due to that threat, and the fact that he had scrambled down a steep, rocky cliff, police decided not to pursue him that day, but he was subsequently arrested later."
Two passengers in the pickup were detained, but not charged with federal crimes.
Smith is currently in custody in Warm Springs, with sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Ancer Haggerty set for Feb. 15. The maximum sentence possible for eluding is five years, with a possible fine of $250,000.
"When a police officer initiates a traffic stop, people need to pull over," Gabriel said. "That's a federal crime in state court, if it's off the reservation, and in federal court, if it's on the reservation."