FBI Safe Trails Task Force at Work on the Cherokee Indian Reservation
Numerous Federal Charges Relating to Crime in Indian Country Filed in U.S. District Court as a Result of Efforts of Task Force Members
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 08, 2010|
ASHEVILLE, NC—A federal grand jury sitting in Asheville, Western District of North Carolina, indicted five individuals on Tuesday, December 7, 2010. Allegations contained in federal charging documents range from homicide and robbery, to crimes involving the sexual exploitation of a child, all on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The collection of criminal charges reflects several months of work accomplished by members of the newly-formed FBI Safe Trails Task Force, now operating on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Reservation of Western North Carolina. Today’s announcement is made by U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins of the Western District of North Carolina and Owen D. Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina.
“Law enforcement partnerships play a critical role in our efforts to confront crime, particularly in Indian Country,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins, chief law enforcement officer for the Western District of North Carolina. “We are well acquainted with the power and results of coordinated efforts, and I commend the many agencies who have stepped up to participate in the Western District’s Safe Trails Task Force. Moreover, we will continue to collaborate with all our partners as we endeavor to strengthen Cherokee’s law enforcement capacity and reduce the incidence of all types of crime on the reservation,” she said.
Three Men Indicted on Robbery in Indian Country Charges
U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins announced that a federal grand jury charged three men on multiple robbery charges in an indictment filed in U.S. District Court on December 7, 2010. The indictment alleges that from July to November 2010 George Lee Hernandez, 20, Stephen Russell Dean McCoy, 23, and John Ray West, II, 43—all of Cherokee and all enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians—allegedly committed multiple robberies against private businesses within the reservation. According to official court documents, the three allegedly targeted local hotels and a shoe store, and used a baseball bat, a knife, or what appeared to be a real gun to threaten and intimidate employees during the robberies. All three defendants are presently in local federal custody pending trial.
Cherokee Resident Charged with Murder in Federal Indictment
U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins announced that Robert Benjamin Smith, 24, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, was charged with murder in a one-count indictment. The charge stems from an October 22, 2010 incident that took place in Swain County, which is within the boundaries of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation. Smith is presently in local federal custody pending trial.
Mississippi Man Charged with Murder and Use of and Carrying a Firearm During a Crime of Violence in Jackson County
U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins announced that a federal grand jury has charged James Ernest Lespier, 32, in a superseding bill of indictment, which includes murder charges stemming from an incident that occurred on May 18, 2010, in Jackson County, within the boundaries of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation. In two criminal counts, Lespier, an Indian, is charged with murder, and with the unlawful possession and use of a firearm (a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver) in the commission of a violent crime. Lespier has been in local federal custody since his arrest earlier in 2010.
Jackson County Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Count of Child Sexual Exploitation
In addition to the grand jury activity this week, Fredrick Bird, 44 of Jackson County, and an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on December 6 to a federal bill of information charging him with one criminal count alleging that he engaged in and caused sexual contact with another person under the age of 12. Bird was arrested on November 24 and has remained in local federal custody since that date. He will be sentenced on a future date in 2011.
All of the above criminal cases come as the result of the work of the Safe Trails Task Force now operating in the Western District of North Carolina and placing their focus on crimes occurring within the boundaries of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation. The Western District’s Safe Trails Task Force is made up of agents, officers, sheriffs’ deputies, and detectives from the FBI, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Cherokee Indian Police Department, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the Graham County Sheriff’s Office, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Swain County Sheriff’s Office. Also participating on the Task Force to supply strong prosecutorial support are representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina and the 30th Prosecutorial District for the State of North Carolina.
“These cases demonstrate the diligent effort which each member of our new Safe Trails Task Force is putting in to make the Cherokee Indian Reservation a safer place. We have been building this partnership for several months, and we are seeing the positive results of that cooperative hard work,” said Owen D. Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “This is just the beginning. Our dedication to making this Task Force successful will endure for years to come.”
Ben Reed, Chief, Cherokee Indian Police Department, said, “As with drug crimes, violent crimes oftentimes involve numerous people in different jurisdictions. I am very pleased that the Cherokee Indian Police Department will be participating in a task force to address violent crimes. This will enhance our capabilities to investigate cases on a larger scale and allow us to provide victims with the best possible service we can.”
The FBI initiated the Safe Trails Task Force program in 1994 after an operation dubbed “Operation Safe Trails” in partnership with the Navajo Department of Law Enforcement in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was designed to unite federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to combat crime in Indian Country. The FBI share federal law enforcement jurisdiction with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services, for more than 200 Indian reservations across the country. There are now 19 active Safe Trails Task Forces operating in the United States.
In addition to the cases brought as a result of the work of the Safe Trails Task Force, an investigation handled solely by the Cherokee Indian Police Department also netted a federal bill of indictment filed in U.S. District Court on December 7, 2010. Adrian Shane George, 20, Emery Lee Littlejohn, 25 and Paul Kenneth Taylor, 20, all of Cherokee and enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, were charged in a three count indictment with breaking and entering a dwelling, kidnaping and robbery all of which allegedly occurred on October 10, 2010, within the boundaries of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation in Jackson County. The three defendants are all in local federal custody pending trial.
For more information about the Justice Department’s work toward greater tribal justice and safety, please visit the Tribal Justice and Safety website, http://www.usdoj.gov/tribaljusticeandsafety.