Ute Indian Tribe sues state over law enforcement jurisdiction

- SALT LAKE CITY, (ABC 4 Utah) – The dispute over Utah’s land goes back to the days of Abraham Lincoln when the Uintah Valley Reservation was created and the disputes continue today.

Over the years, the Ute Indian tribal land got smaller and smaller and the animosity grew bigger.

In 1975, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah sued the State of Utah, Duchesne County, Roosevelt City, Duchesne City and Uintah County over jurisdiction within the exterior boundaries of the original Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

After a 25 year battle, both sides came to agreements, both written and verbal about respecting land boundaries, and the case was dismissed in 2000.

However, the Ute Indian Tribe just re-opened the case in April 2013.

Randy Hunter with the Utah Attorney General’s Office said the legal battle focuses on one question.

“The question is who has criminal jurisdiction within the Ute Reservation over tribal members,” Hunter said.

A handful of Utes have been pulled over near U.S. Highway 40 by Utah Highway Patrol members or Duchesne and Uintah County deputies. The Utes believe their tribal police should oversee the cases, not the state and that tribe members should not be arrested if they are on Ute land.

“There has in fact been a cooperative law agreement for many years and the state is still prepared to honor that,” Hunter said.

Hunter said the cooperative law agreement has expired and the Ute Indian Tribe is unwilling to renew it.

Depending on the outcome of the case, land could be taken off tax rolls, meaning the State of Utah could lose tax revenue on the land.

A preliminary hearing one the case is set for June 24. A judge is expected to first look at the cases involving the tribe members who were pulled over by state or county law enforcement officials before moving forward with the jurisdictional land dispute case.

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