Police Raid R.I. Native American Tobacco Shop

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Police Raid R.I. Native American Tobacco Shop

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. -- Eight members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, including the tribal leader, were arrested Monday by state police in a tumultuous raid on the tribe's new tax-free tobacco shop.

Gov. Don Carcieri called the raid "truly regrettable, but clearly necessary." He maintains the tax-free shop is illegal, while tribal leaders say they would close it only if the governor dropped his opposition to a casino, the Associated Press reported. Carcieri said the troopers entered the reservation with a court-issued search warrant. "We do not take today's actions lightly," he said. "We deliberated long and hard before authorizing today's response."

Charlestown, R.I. police chief Sachem Matthew Thomas and other tribal members were arrested as police entered the Narragansett Smoke Shop, which opened Saturday. State police also confiscated cigarettes and took about $900 from the store. Seven tribal members were released on personal recognizance, and one posted bail.

Thomas said one person was injured during the raid, while tribal members said as many as 10 people complained of injuries. A videotape by television station WJAR shows state police troopers forcibly opening the shop's doors. Several tribal members who resisted were wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. The video also shows Thomas with his arms wrapped around a state trooper at the shop's front steps, while one tribal member appears to have his hand on the trooper's throat. Shortly afterward, two troopers pull a man down the steps, and then pull Thomas after him.

The tape also shows a police dog nipping at the clothing of a man who is handcuffed and face-down on the ground. "The Narragansett Indian Tribe did what it's always done -- it stood to protect its land," said Thomas, who had two bandages on his left arm and a swollen right wrist.

Carcieri said his administration had been meeting with the Narragansetts to discuss ways to stimulate the tribe's economy. But he said the demand for a casino in exchange for closing the shop was unacceptable.

"From my perspective that was outrageous," said Carcieri, who contends the shop violates federal and state laws.

By law, sales between American Indians aren't subject to government sales taxes, but tribal businesses are supposed to collect taxes on sales to others, the report said. To collect tobacco taxes, some states make compacts with individual tribes. The National Association of Convenience Stores has said more than a dozen states have compacts with at least some tribes within their borders.

But many states, such as New York, have been unwilling or unable to reach compacts. In recent years, federal agents have raided tax-free smoke shops in Washington state and Idaho looking for evidence that people who are not American Indians bought tobacco products without paying state taxes.