Feds seize documents, computers from Narragansett Indian offices

Police outside the Narragansett Indian headquarters on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. (Walt Buteau/WPRI-TV)

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Federal authorities seized documents and computers from the Narragansett Indian Administration Building Thursday evening and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo called for a federal mediator to get involved with the dispute, as the sit-in by a tribal faction entered day 4.

On Friday, heat and electricity were cut off in the Narragansett Tribal Headquarters. Tribal members Domingo Monroe and Randy Noka have been in the building since Tuesday. They think the power outage was at the hands of the opposing faction.

Raimondo spokesperson David Ortiz said neither the governor nor the state have jurisdiction in the disputed tribal elections, a statement that echoed a federal judges decision on Thursday following motions from both sides for temporary restraining orders.

Ortiz said the governor spoke with the tribe’s long-time Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas “to urge a peaceful resolution.” Ortiz added that Governor Raimondo is working with the U.S. Attorney to request a federal mediator’s help to resolve the dispute.

Late Thursday, police presence ballooned to more than a dozen officers from multiple local departments and state police, with reports of a few scuffles, but no injuries or arrests. The group inside the building said a member of the other faction broke a window near the front door.

Ortiz said “State Police will remain on call to keep the peace.”

Among the issues at play in the quarrel that dates back several years is Thomas’s impeachment. The newly elected council and a group of tribe members voted in October to oust Thomas over a number of issues including his residency in Florida.

Chastity Machado is part of the group of about 12 inside the building. She has been elected to the tribal council twice since 2014, but both elections were determined to be illegal  by a faction led by Thomas and Medicine Man John Brown.

“We welcome the federal investigators,” Machado said. “We’ve been asking for this for years.”

Machado said the tribe faces a $2.5 million dollar deficit according to a recent audit.

Tribal member Darlene Monroe has gone on record multiple times over the past year, asking for federal investigators to get involved. She said the Narragansetts receive about $5 million a year in funding from the Bureau of Indian affairs, as well as other grant money.

The tribe received just over $750,000 last fiscal year from the state in Video Lottery Terminal money.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau