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Pyke v. Cuomo

December 21, 2006

JOSEPH H. PYKE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF MATTHEW PYKE, MAY P. COLE, CHARLES BENEDICT, PATRICIA A. BENEDICT, JULIUS M. COOK, BEVERLY J. PYKE, EDWARD SMOKE, SELENA M. SMOKE, MARGARET PYKE THOMPSON, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARIO CUOMO, THOMAS CONSTANTINE, ROBERT B. LEU, AND ROBERT R. BROOKS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCURN, Senior U.S. District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

In this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs allege that defendants violated their constitutional rights by refusing to provide police protection to the Mohawk Indian Reservation ("Reservation"), also known as Akwesasne, during a period of unrest that started in the late 1980s and culminated with the deaths of two persons on May 1, 1990. Plaintiffs claim a violation of their equal protection rights secured by both the United States and New York State Constitutions, alleging discrimination against them on the basis of their Native American race and national origin.

Pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' equal protection claims (Doc. No. 138), and defendants' motion to strike certain exhibits submitted by plaintiffs (Doc. No. 181 ). For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted, and the motion to strike will be denied as moot.

I. Background

Familiarity with the facts and procedural history of this case is assumed.*fn1 The court will recite further undisputed facts only as necessary to clarify its findings. The named individual plaintiffs are representative of the class of 5,000 Native American residents of Akwesasne. Defendants are Mario Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York at the time of the alleged incidents; Thomas A. Constantine, Superintendent of the New York State Police during the relevant time period; Robert E. Leu, commanding officer of State Police Troop B in 1990, the troop which had jurisdiction over and responsibility for New York State Police activities in the portion of the Akwesasne Reservation which lies within the State of New York; and Ronald R. Brooks, commanding officer of Troop B through 1989. Defendants are being sued in their personal capacities only.

The case was reopened on August 16, 2001, pursuant to a mandate of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. An order granting the plaintiffs' motion to certify the class was entered on August 8, 2002 (Doc. No. 123). Discovery resumed on the motion for summary judgment under the guidance of Magistrate Judge David R. Homer.

The parties have undertaken extensive discovery and have produced a voluminous record.*fn2 As this court painstakingly reviewed the documentation, it was astounded by the labyrinth of governments, police agencies, competing factions and factors that came into play on the Akwesasne Reservation. The defendants were charged with the task of charting a course through this maze, including balancing the threshold issues of jurisdiction and sovereignty, in order to provide police protection to the people of Akwesasne.

Akwesasne is divided by the international border between the United States and Canada, and accordingly, is subject to the jurisdiction of both nations, as well as two provincial governments, Ontario and Quebec, the New York State government, and three local Native American governments on the Reservation. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council ("Tribal Council") is the governing body recognized by the United States and the New York State governments. Three elected Chiefs head the Tribal Council. The national and provincial governments of Canada recognize the elected Mohawk Council at Akwesasne ("Mohawk Council") as the governing body on the Canadian side of the Reservation. A third governing body not formally recognized by the United States or Canada is the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs ("Mohawk Nation Council"), a traditional Mohawk government that views Akwesasne as one territory encompassing both sides of the border. The Chiefs of the Mohawk Nation Council are chosen by consensus among members of the Mohawk community through ancestral Clans.

In addition to the governing bodies, there are also several police agencies with jurisdiction on the reservation. On the Canadian side of the international border, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ("RCMP"), the Ontario Provincial Police ("OPP") and the Surete du Quebec provide national and provincial police protection. In addition, there is an indigenous police force on the Canadian side of Akwesasne, the Mohawk Tribal Police Force. On the United States side of the border, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA") has federal jurisdiction over Indian tribes. The BIA is assisted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, and utilizes the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") as its law enforcement arm. In addition, the New York State Police ("NYSP") has jurisdiction on the Reservation pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 232.*fn3 Specifically, Troop B of the NYSP has Another group emerged on the scene in the relevant time frame of this case: the Warrior Society ("Warriors"), also known as the Mohawk Sovereign Security Force. The Warriors armed themselves with a vast amount of weaponry, including AK-47s and other semi-automatic weapons.*fn4 The Warriors characterized NYSP presence on the Reservation as an invasion of their sovereign territory. In 1989, the Warriors began to actively interfere with State Police patrols.

The plaintiffs declare that the Warriors are a criminal organization. However, the descriptions and assessments of the Warriors in the record run the full gamut: young Mohawks who didn't know what they were getting into; traditional Mohawks whose main focus was maintaining the sovereignty of the Mohawk nation; pro-gambling enforcers hired by the operators of illegal casinos; terrorists who wouldn't allow the NYSP to enter the Reservation without the permission of the Warrior leaders; and/or a self-appointed law enforcement entity that protected the vast smuggling operation that was allegedly taking place on the international border, to name a few.*fn5

The anti-gambling and pro-gambling posture of the Mohawk people did not honor the ideological boundaries of the various Mohawk governments, nor even the boundaries of Mohawk family units. The stance of the Tribal Council on gambling could, and did, change with yearly tribal elections. Pro-gambling family members faced anti-gambling members across roadblocks and dinner tables: parent against child, husband against wife, sibling against sibling. The record also indicates that some Warriors held anti-gambling beliefs, but the sovereignty issues they firmly believed in outweighed their views on gambling. Business owners wanted to run their businesses as usual, and were hurt by the roadblocks, regardless of whether the roads were obstructed by pro-gambling or anti-gambling factions, or by the NYSP.*fn6

Added to this mix was the poor economic situation on the Reservation, a high unemployment rate among the Mohawk people, and the devastation of the Reservation's land and waterways by industrial pollution, causing the decimation of the Mohawk's agriculture and fishing industries. Fish, a staple of the Mohawks diet for centuries, was no longer fit for human consumption. Consequently, it is undisputed that some residents of the Reservation turned to the easy money of smuggling and illegal gambling.

II. Discussion

A. Summary Judgment ...


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