Rapid City Journal
With support from several local and area law-enforcement officials, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has introduced federal legislation to address the flight of criminal suspects to Native American reservations.
Noem and fellow Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who visited Rapid City with Noem earlier this year, have introduced the No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act.
Under current policy, according to a news release from Noem, some suspects wanted on felony charges — including violent crimes — can flee to Native American reservations and evade arrest. The Noem-Gowdy proposal would give federal law enforcement the authority, when necessary, to enter tribal land and apprehend a defendant.
“Today, we have fugitives hiding in plain sight,” Noem said. “The way the system is set up, violent criminals can use Indian Country as a haven to evade law enforcement. That policy poses a serious and concerning public safety threat to tribal communities.”
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom was one of several law-enforcement officials who joined Noem on Friday at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City to talk about the legislation.
“The priority should always be on victims of crime and public safety,” Thom said. “Law enforcement faces jurisdictional obstacles that hinder our efforts while fugitives roam freely from one jurisdiction to the next, oftentimes continuing to commit more crimes. It is time to hold fugitives accountable and stand up for victims.”
Also at Friday’s meeting was Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo.
“Too many victims of crime in Pennington County over the past decades have had to hear that they would not get their day in court because the offender was beyond the reach of even federal law,” Vargo said. “By recognizing tribal borders as being the equivalent of state borders, the No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act takes a huge step toward ensuring that no one is beyond the law.”
Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris said he believes the current policy is the result of an unintentional flaw that he hopes the new legislation will fix.
“Ultimately, it will create an opportunity for reduced victimization by holding offenders accountable,” Jegeris said.
Under current law, according to Noem, federal law enforcement may apprehend a suspect who allegedly commits a crime in South Dakota and then flees to another state in an attempt to evade arrest. Federal law enforcement may also apprehend a suspect who allegedly commits a crime in South Dakota and then flees to a Native American reservation in another state.
But federal law officers currently do not have the authority to apprehend a suspect who allegedly commits a crime in South Dakota and then flees to a Native American reservation in South Dakota. The Noem-Gowdy bill aims to close that loophole.