|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
Police chief requested assault investigation by Ranger, PCSO
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — The Tribal Council at the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation is declining to answer questions surrounding the absence from duty of Police Chief Antonio Ford. After a local blogger posted an accusation without citing a source or details, Tribal Council Chairman Ronnie Thomas issued the following statement: "In accordance with the Alabama- Coushatta Tribe's Personnel policies regarding employee confidentiality, we cannot release or confirm any information regarding any rumors or speculation of actions taken against Tribal employees," Thomas said. Last week the Polk County Enterprise was told outside law enforcement officials were investigating an assault in which Ford was the victim. Ford initially did not return messages seeking comment. After messages from the Enterprise about reports of his injury, Ford confirmed he was on administrative leave, but offered no details. At that time, Captain William Jerry was already on administrative leave, ostensibly for pursuing an employment opportunity with another law enforcement agency. As of press time Tuesday, Lt. Debra Richards was in command at the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Police Department. Chief Deputy Byron Lyons with the Polk County Sheriff's Office said his department has done an initial investigation. It was reviewed by Texas Ranger Ron Duff on Tuesday and will be forwarded to the Polk County District Attorney's Office for prosecutors to determine charges. The sheriff's office initiated the investigation at Ford's request. Officers who have left the department say the process of initiating the police department on the reservation has been an extremely difficult one, with the majority of actions taken against a tribal member resulting in complaints against the officer. Former officers who identify themselves as either mixed race or African American said tribal members openly used a tribal language racial slur whenever they issued citations or took actions required of the job. The departed officers have said it is difficult to focus on policing when even experienced officers must spend so much time responding to complaints from citizens. Time and time again, residents told officers they want them to focus on "outsiders." Law enforcement officers cannot comply with that request since doing so would Federal Civil Rights laws and requirements of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education, which states that policing must be done without regard to race, ethnicity or cultural background. The poor relationship between officers and tribal members began with their first official action on New Years Eve. The department participated in a joint operation with the Polk County Sheriff's Office to attempt to arrest a fugitive sex offender they had numerous tips was hiding in tribal housing. When Jerry and Officer Russell Sims went with sheriff's deputies to tell occupants of the mobile home that the Tribal Council would be initiating immediate eviction proceedings for harboring a fugitive, the occupants allowed a dog to attempt an attack on Jerry. The family was evicted and the fugitive was arrested. Jerry was not injured, but the dog is now deceased. Officers believe tribal members want a "native only" department, but currently, there are not enough officers with the proper credentials to comply with that community desire. Ford and former Tribal Council Chairman Kyle Williams repeatedly stated during the department's development a desire to "grow their own" young officers, believing the police department and court system provided viable career options for youth on the reservation.