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Judge clears trooper in raid of Narragansett Reservation

STATE RAID: Troopers pin tribal members on the ground during raid of the Narragansett Reservation on July 14, 2003.
A Rhode Island trooper who participated in the state's violent raid of the Narragansett Reservation two years ago was cleared by a federal judge on Wednesday.

A jury convicted trooper Kenneth Jones of excessive force and battery during the July 14, 2003, raid. Adam Jennings, a member of the Narragansett Tribe, was awarded a $301,100 in compensatory damages for a broken ankle he suffered during the incident.

But in a 31-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres said Jennings was to blame for his injuries. The judge threw out the verdict and judgment against Jones, ruling that the officer used reasonable force and is therefore shielded from liability.

"This is not a case in which a police officer gratuitously used physical force under circumstances that did not justify the use of force," Torres wrote. "Rather, this is a case in which the plaintiff's own conduct in resisting arrest justified the use of physical force and force was applied, solely, for the purpose of subduing him," the ruling stated.

The decision is the latest in the state's long-running feud with the Narragansett Tribe. Both sides have been at odds over the extent of the tribe's sovereignty, arguing over gaming, trust land and tax issues.

In July 2003, the state mounted a high-profile raid of the reservation in order to shut down a smoke shop that wasn't collecting state taxes. As television crews were taping, troopers seized tribal property and arrested several tribal members, including Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas.

The tape of the incident was repeatedly played as Jennings, his mother, Paula Jennings, and Keith Huertas, a Pueblo man from New Mexico who was employed as the manager of the shop, subsequently went to trial and accused state police of violating their civil rights. Most of the charges were thrown out and most of the troopers were cleared.

Jones was the only one held responsible for his actions. According to witnesses, he held down Jennings on the floor of the smoke shop.

The tape shows part of the interaction between Jones and Jennings but not everything was captured. However, Jones can be heard telling Jennings, "Don't resist and you won't have to worry about it." Jennings can be heard saying that he recently had surgery on his ankle.

The tape also shows Paula Jennings hitting Jones on the back of the head as Adam laid on the floor. Jones testified in court that Adam later stated "It took ten of you to bring me down" as he was being led out of the smoke shop, a statement that was not contradicted in court.

In examining the situation, Torres determined that the method Jones used to subdue Jennings and turn his ankle was reasonable because it was taught in the police academy. Torres concluded that troopers who testified that Jones continued to "kick at them and actively resist their efforts" were more credible than Jones and other witnesses who testified that he wasn't resisting.

As a result, Jones is entitled to "qualified immunity" because his actions during the raid were lawful, the judge said.

Despite the ruling, the battle over the smoke shop continues. Last month, an en banc panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to rehear the case in order to decide the extent of state civil and criminal jurisdiction over the facility. Oral arguments are set for early December.

A three-judge panel previously held that the state violated the tribe's sovereignty by conducting the raid. At the same time, the court said the state could collect taxes on the sale of goods to non-Indians.

Separately, the state is challenging the tribe's ability to acquire trust lands. The 1st Circuit ruled that the tribe's land claims settlement act didn't bar future acquisitions. The state has asked for an en banc rehearing, a request that is still pending.

Get the Decision:
Jennings v. Pare (August 24, 2005)

Relevant Links:
Narragansett Tribe -
Smoke Shop Showdown -