Saturday, January 24, 2004


Dispute continues over BIA agent
Case may go back to U.S. District Court

Bill Morlin
Staff writer

Attorneys for a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent may take a jurisdictional dispute with the Spokane Tribe of Indians back to U.S. District Court.

A hearing scheduled for Friday in Tribal Court on the Spokane Reservation was rescheduled for March 29.

Attorneys representing BIA special agent Duane Garvais sought the continuance, and the Tribal Court granted it.

"We are going to explore our remedies in federal court before we submit to Tribal Court," said one of Garvais' attorney
s, Toby McLaughlin.

Spokane attorney Mark Vovos, hired by the Spokane Tribe in the case, couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

The tribe charged Garvais in Tribal Court last year after the U.S. Attorney's Office ruled there was insufficient evidence to warrant such charges. The tribe accuses Garvais of mishandling undercover drug-buy funds. The Justice Department countered, saying there's no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, only a lack of supervision by Garvais' BIA supervisors.

The Justice Department and Garvais' attorneys, McLaughlin and Leslie Weatherhead, maintain the Spokane Tribe has no jurisdiction over the federal agent.

Tribal attorneys contended their courts do have jurisdiction over Garvais because he is a Native American.

In an apparent contradiction, the BIA currently is attempting to fire Garvais, claiming he didn't meet the "Indian descendant preference" requirement when he was hired.

Garvais says he is a Native American, with ancestors belonging to the Colville Confederated Tribes, but currently isn't an enrolled member of any tribe.

Garvais has been a BIA law enforcement special agent since 1999. He has been on paid administrative leave since September 2002, when a dispute arose about criminal cases he was investigating on the Spokane Reservation.

When he was arrested last year on the tribal charges, Garvais' attorneys filed an action for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush said he is willing to consider the jurisdictional issue if Garvais' attorneys request it.

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