Madera County judge rules Chukchansi Casino raid case will proceed

MADERA, Calif. (KFSN) -- The criminal case against 15 defendants charged with various crimes during a raid at Chukchansi Casino last year will proceed, a judge ruled on Friday.

The motion to dismiss was on the grounds Madera County had a lack of jurisdiction since these events happened on Native American land. Part of the issue was also whether the police force hired by the Tex McDonald faction were true law enforcement officers the day they were seizing records from the gaming office.

Seven months later, faction leader Tex McDonald and tribal employee Vernon King are still locked up. Thirteen others posted bail and were released, including several others who say they should be exempt from the crimes which are alleged, since they were acting as police officers during the raid.

"The judge actually made a very interesting ruling. He didn't rule on the sovereign immunity issue at all as to the police officers. He ruled that the police officers could still be charged with excessive force," attorney Patrick Hanly said.

Inside court, Madera County Superior Court Judge Dale Blea pointed to other rulings around the country related to Native American land, property, crimes and jurisdictions. In the end, he said all sides can present evidence at the preliminary hearing, in what is a very rare and complicated case.

"The court noted that the tribe may select its own leaders, but leadership disputes may not be settled by means that violate state criminal laws. That's the question to be answered here," said Blea.

Attorneys argued the tribal police officers, hired by the Tex McDonald faction, cannot be charged with crimes such as kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon because they were acting within the scope of their job during the raid.

But Madera County District Attorney David Linn believes there is some question about their authority at all. "Supposed police officers," he said.

The fighting among factions continues, according to tribal chairman Reggie Lewis. But leaders are working toward opening the casino again, as soon as possible.

"I've heard three or four months thrown out there as the earliest, and six months to a year at the latest," said Lewis.

In the meantime, the criminal case that closed the casino continues. And the district attorney is looking forward to a resolution, as soon as possible.

"I'm anxious to get this over with one way or the other. I am anxious to take this burden off the taxpayers of Madera County, which is what it is, and I am anxious for the casino to reopen," said Linn.

The defendants were all arraigned on Friday and pleaded not guilty. A preliminary hearing date will be set next week.

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