Million dollar claims from Chukchansi casino takeover defendants

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The men accused of crimes in an armed takeover at the Chukchansi casino now demand a multi-million dollar payout from Madera County.

Fourteen men facing charges related to the casino showdown -- have filed claims against the county in a first step towards civil rights lawsuits. The men all claim they were acting within the scope of legitimate jobs as tribal police, and they say their arrests were politically motivated. But they have one giant hurdle to leap before their claims can carry water.

From the moment John Oliveira and his hired hands arrived at the Chukchansi Resort Hotel and Casino, their show of force was obvious. And in video provided by their defense team, they acted quickly and efficiently -- as a trained team.

"These men all legitimately believed they were police officers hired by the Picayune Rancheria," said attorney Mark Coleman, who represents nine of the defendants.

The video shows the men creating quite a stir at the entrance, but then avoiding the main casino floor, heading instead for offices where their target was financial documents. It was a plan Oliveira says he laid out to then-Madera County district attorney Michael Keitz.

"He never said you don't have the authority to do it," Coleman said. "He essentially said 'Good luck. Sounds like a mess up there.'"

And it turned out to be quite a mess. The people detained by Oliveira's force were set free, someone pulled a fire alarm, and a fight broke out near the offices. When the dust settled, the DA's office filed felony charges against the men acting as police and Tex McDonald, the leader of the tribal faction who hired them. The defendants now want in excess of $1 million each in claims against the county, claiming false imprisonment and other civil rights violations. ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says it's clear they've all lost out on work and paid large bail amounts, but to win lawsuits against the county, they'll need to win their criminal cases first.

"If they're found guilty of these charges, it's going to be very difficult to try and sue anyone," he said.

Action News reached out to all the Madera County supervisors, but because this is pending litigation, none of them would comment. The board had a vote scheduled Tuesday on whether to reject the claims, and then the next step is for the men to file lawsuits.

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