PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – The leader of the Narragansett Indian tribe was ordered Thursday to perform community service for brawling with state troopers during a police raid on a tribal smoke shop.

Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, who was convicted along with two other tribe members, will have to educate school children on his tribe’s history as part of his sentence of 150 hours of community service.

His record will be expunged if he stays out of trouble for one year.

The sentencing ends a case that began five years ago after tribal members fought with state police who were trying to shut down a shop on tribal land in Charlestown that was selling cigarettes without collecting state taxes.

The seven tribe members arrested after the raid faced only misdemeanor charges, and prosecutors on Thursday did not recommend jail time for the three who were eventually convicted. But the low-stakes misdemeanor case gave the Narragansetts a platform to raise questions of tribal sovereignty and to speak out against what they said was a centuries-old pattern of mistreatment by the state.

“It was essentially an invasion upon their land,” defense lawyer William Devereaux told Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl during a sentencing hearing.

A second defendant, Randy Noka, was sentenced to 25 hours of community service, while a third, Hiawatha Brown, received a one-year suspended sentence for slamming a state trooper’s arm in the smoke shop door. The defendants were convicted in April of either disorderly conduct or simple assault.

Four other tribe members were acquitted.

In a written statement, Attorney General Patrick Lynch said the Narragansetts were treated like any other defendant charged with the same crime, and it was good for the state that the case was over.

Thomas said he regretted the fight but that the Narragansetts had not been looking for one.

“The tribe’s got to have some kind of understanding with the state. We were the original people here. People need to respect that, whether they like it or not,” Thomas told reporters outside court.

The state police obtained a warrant and assembled several dozen officers, a SWAT team and a police dog for the July 14, 2003 raid, which was carried out two days after the shop opened and was videotaped by television news crews.

Gov. Don Carcieri ordered the raid after negotiations with the tribe broke down. The subsequent criminal case was stalled as federal courts weighed whether Rhode Island authorities can enforce state law on the Narragansett reservation. A federal appeals court two years ago ruled that that state law applies to tribal land and that the cigarette sales were illegal.

Devereaux said the troopers treated the Narragansetts like a gang instead of like the state’s only federally recognized tribe. But prosecutor Pamela Chin said tribal leaders were obligated to try to avoid the conflict rather than escalate it.

“These are the people that were supposed to be leading their people, and they led them into a fight with the state police,” Chin said.

McGuirl said it was fortunate there weren’t more serious injuries, given the number of officers involved and the passions on both sides.

The judge issued filings to Noka and Thomas, which means their records will be cleared after a year of good behavior. She gave Brown a harsher sentence because of a prior criminal record and for what she said was his more aggressive behavior during the raid, including placing a state trooper in a chokehold.

Brown also received probation and was ordered to undergo anger management counseling.

He told the judge he would make the same decision again to defend his people. But he said it was time to move on.

“We’re going nowhere, the state’s going nowhere,” he said. “So to better the lives of everyone, we need to put this behind us, move forward.”

AP-ES-06-19-08 1759EDT


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