Federal Probe Possible for R.I. Smoke Shop Raid

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Federal Probe Possible for R.I. Smoke Shop Raid

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Investigations into last weeks state police raid on the Narragansett Indian tribe's tobacco store moved forward on two fronts yesterday, with an influential California congressman calling for a federal probe, and Governor Don Carcieri naming the head of a social-justice agency to guide a local inquiry, the Providence Journal reported.

In Washington, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) chairman of the House committee in charge of Indian affairs, has asked Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to examine the melee between state police and the Narragansetts, which injured at least eight people. Televised images of the confrontation "have outraged Native American leaders nationwide, who have expressed strong concerns that the civil rights of Native Americans, and the sovereign rights of the Narragansett Tribe, may have been violated," Pombo wrote in a letter to Ashcroft.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island Gov. Carcieri announced that he has tapped Sanford Cloud Jr., the president and CEO of the nonprofit National Conference for Community and Justice, as an adviser to an "independent panel" the governor will appoint to review the incident with the Narragansetts.

Pombo is aware of an investigation at the state level, but said it is not enough. "While this is a commendable step, due to the lengthy history of disputes between the Narragansett Tribe and the state, the complexity of the issues involved with the intersection of tribal law-enforcement authority, and the high level of emotion currently running in Rhode Island, I believe that this review by itself is insufficient," he said. "Only the United States government will be seen as providing a fair and objective review of this incident, and the surrounding controversies over the tribal tobacco store."

Pombo also appeared to take a position against the state's decision to raid the smoke shop, where the tribe was selling tax-free cigarettes. He acknowledged that the legal questions about the business are "serious, complex and legitimate." But he added, "the place to resolve these questions is in a court of law, not in an aggressive raid that risks violent confrontation on tribal land where tribal members, state and tribal law-enforcement officers, and innocent bystanders are all put needlessly in harm's way."

Tribe Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas welcomed the federal probe. "We're delighted with Congressman Pombo's action. He obviously recognizes the unique relationship between the tribe and Congress. "Thomas is among seven tribal members arrested by police during the scuffle.