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Chief Thomas Defends Indian Tribe on State Raid (posted July 20, 2003)

Narragansett Indian Tribe Chief Matthew Thomas is defending his tribe's actions in Monday's state raid on its smoke shop. The chief made two appearances today, one on the WJAR-TV show "10 News Conference" and the other on the WPRI-TV show "Newsmakers".

On "Newsmakers", the chief said "we were kind of stunned" when the state police raided the tax-free cigarette store on grounds it was operating illegally. The tribe claims the shop is on sovereign grounds and that state search warrants are illegal. If the state had issued a restraining order, he said, "we would not have accepted it." However, he added that if there were a federal order, "we would have stood down."

The leader of the Narragansetts complained that the state police did not show its search papers despite repeated requests to do so. On the issue of a possible "compact" with the state that would allow the Narragansetts to sell tax-free cigarettes in exchange for returning some revenue to the state, Thomas said "we certainly are open to that, but there are other outstanding issues with the state." Complaining that the state has not allowed a vote on a gambling casino since 1994, despite being in the gaming business itself, he said "the hypocrisy is incredible."

On "10 News Conference", Chief Thomas added a few more details to the moment right before the raid. When informed "seven minutes" in advance by a fellow tribe member that state troopers were headed toward the shop, he ordered cars to be parked in front of the shop that would help form a "blockade" against the state police. "I made a decision to protect our property," he noted. The state police "had no authority" over the store, he argued, because it was on tribal land in Charlestown. When asked about the melee that ensued, he said "I think we showed restraint." Thomas indicated the tribe plans to keep the store closed until the issue is resolved by a federal court.
Copyright 2000Karen Martin Media Services