FORT DUCHESNE, Uintah County — A long-simmering dispute over who has the right to enforce the law in northeastern Utah appeared to inch closer to the boiling point Friday when Ute Indian Tribe leaders called for a boycott of businesses in Roosevelt.
The boycott is a response to what tribal officials consider "ongoing civil rights violations and discriminatory law enforcement activities carried out against tribal members by Roosevelt law enforcement officers," according to a statement sent out by attorneys for the tribe.
"This boycott shall be enforced by the tribe, all tribal departments and tribal enterprises," the statement said, adding that oil and natural gas companies with offices in Roosevelt are not subject to the boycott.
Roosevelt city officials responded late Friday with a statement of their own, saying they are "surprised" and "disappointed" by the tribe's course of action.
"The city finds the suggested boycott to be unfair, unreasonable and unlikely to accomplish the stated objective," Roosevelt officials said.
It's all part of a decades-long fight over who has criminal and regulatory jurisdiction over tribal members in a region of Utah where the jurisdictional map resembles a checkerboard, and where questions still remain about whether Congress "diminished or disestablished" the Uncompahgre Indian Reservation, which is part of the larger Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation.
The six-member Ute Tribe Business Committee — the body that exercises executive and legislative power in tribal government — encouraged all 3,000-plus tribal members to take part in the boycott. The body urged businesses and individuals working with the tribe to honor the boycott as well.
"By refusing to support nontribal and nonmember businesses in the city of Roosevelt, the Business Committee is hopeful that the tribe’s concerns with respect to unlawful law enforcement practices by Roosevelt will be addressed," tribal leaders said in their statement.
City leaders refuted claims that the police force engages in racial profiling, calling the tribe's allegations "unspecific."
"The city has no knowledge of any misconduct," Roosevelt officials said. "On the contrary, city law enforcement officials conscientiously strive to enforce laws within Roosevelt city giving no regard to the race of those who commit crimes or who are victims of crimes.
"The city disagrees with this action of the Business Committee and urges local businesses, and all members of the community, to respect one another and work together for the mutual benefit of all involved," city officials added.
In addition to their claims of racial profiling, tribal leaders say they are frustrated with the city's refusal to come to the negotiating table to discuss a cooperative law enforcement agreement.
City leaders, however, say there is no need for them to take part in those negotiations because federal court rulings have settled the issue of law enforcement jurisdiction within city limits.
The tribe did have a law enforcement agreement with the state and Duchesne and Uintah counties as a result of a prior federal court ruling, but that pact was only partially implemented and was allowed to expire.
The city disagrees with this action of the Business Committee and urges local businesses, and all members of the community, to respect one another and work together for the mutual benefit of all involved
–Roosevelt City officials
Efforts to negotiate a new deal fell apart about two years ago, and now the parties are involved in a renewed legal battle in federal court — a fight Roosevelt has been dragged into.
In June, a federal judge refused to grant the tribe's request for a preliminary injunction against the state, the counties and three cities in a lawsuit that was first filed nearly 40 years ago.
Judge Bruce Jenkins reached his decision after Uintah County Attorney G. Mark Thomas renewed his promise to seek temporary stays in state court cases pending against three Ute tribal members. Thomas vowed to review a fourth contested case to determine whether it warranted a stay as well.
Attorneys for the tribe had sought the emergency order to bar the prosecution of tribal members for offenses they say were committed within the boundaries of the Uncompahgre or Uinta Valley Indian reservations.
The request was filed together with a larger lawsuit that accused law enforcement officers in the Uintah Basin of engaging in racial profiling.
"These are not your average, ordinary criminal prosecutions," Frances Bassett, an attorney for the tribe, told Jenkins in June. "They're being used intentionally to come back at the tribe … to steal portions of the tribe's reservation."
Jenkins appeared to be frustrated with the attorneys on both sides, asking them repeatedly to identify the facts that they believe are in dispute and those that are not.
"I was hopeful, maybe overly optimistic, that folks were going to get together (before the hearing) to define what they're talking about," said the judge, who inherited the case in 1978 when he took the federal bench.
By that time, it was already 3 years old.
Jenkins dismissed the case in 2000, after the parties inked a trio of 10-year contracts that appeared to resolve their jurisdictional disagreements. But in April, the tribe asked him to reopen the case, a request he granted.
"I think it behooves everybody in this case to understand that everybody has to get along," the judge said. "And where we have competing sovereigns, they may need to accommodate one another."
Calling for a boycott is not a new tactic for tribal leaders. In September 1997, Ute leaders launched a boycott of Roosevelt businesses after Jenkins lifted an injunction that had prohibited the city from exercising jurisdiction over tribal members in misdemeanor cases.
The judge's ruling was based on a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that removed Roosevelt from within the boundaries of the tribe's reservation.
The boycott lasted until October 1998, when tribal officials called it off after city leaders made what were seen as "attempts at reconciliation."
Irene Hansen, executive director of the Duchesne County Chamber of Commerce, noted Friday that the boycott comes "after a summer of celebration and events that welcomed residents and visitors from all over the Uintah Basin."
"It is evident that it is the generosity of local businesses that made these events possible," Hansen said. "This news (of the boycott) brings a sense of sadness to all concerned."