Renegade Road

A woman perishes in a collision with an Indian leader's kin. Her family cries coverup.

Tribal courts can neither hear serious charges such as murder nor impose sentences more severe than one year in prison. And federal authorities can overrule any decision made in Indian court. "We are the citizens of three different governments: tribal, state, and federal," says David E. Wilkins, a Lumbee tribe member and professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota. "We are entangled by the web of intergovernmental relations."

South Florida's Seminoles have had their share of sovereignty-related squabbles, especially since building the massive Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. In 2007, an Air Force airman was arrested by tribal police in a fight at the casino and was denied the right to see evidence against him. When actress and former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith died there of a drug overdose around the same time, Broward prosecutors were limited to backing up Seminole cops. And the tribe has long simply ignored personal-injury suits filed by visitors to its casinos.

But perhaps no tribe has had such a contentious recent history involving sovereignty as the Miccosukee, which in the past decade has waged an escalating cold war with the American government.

"I know that they've lied to us," Tatiana's brother Will says of Miccosukee Police.
C. Stiles
"I know that they've lied to us," Tatiana's brother Will says of Miccosukee Police.
The mug shot of Kent Billie, a politically connected tribe member who was in the other vehicle.
Broward Sheriff's Office
The mug shot of Kent Billie, a politically connected tribe member who was in the other vehicle.

In 1997, Kirk Douglas Billie, a 29-year-old Miccosukee man who had previously used his status as a member of the tribe to dodge county charges of domestic abuse, drove his ex-girlfriend's SUV into an Everglades canal as the couple's sons, ages 3 and 5, slept in the back seat. He jumped to safety before the car hit water, and the kids drowned. The tribal court absolved him. "The tribe members believe they have handled the issues, Indian to Indian," tribe chairman Billy Cypress explained at the time. "In accordance with the tribe's customary and traditional dispute resolution, [the clans] shook hands and determined that forgiveness was appropriate.''

Unfortunately for Billie, the canal was on state property, and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office stuck him with two counts of first-degree murder. Miccosukee lawyers blocked prosecutors from tribal land and threatened to arrest armed agents. The tribe refused to furnish police reports, and Indian cops who cooperated with the state investigation were fired, prosecutors claimed. Nevertheless, in 2001, Billie was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The Miccosukee court is often accused of meting out lax or unbalanced justice. "It was not remotely like any legitimate justice system I've ever experienced," says Sandy Bohrer, a Miami attorney who once argued a case there involving casino gaming (and sometimes represents New Times in press matters). "Frankly, my experience was that the American government's guilt [over its historical mistreatment of Native Americans] had led to a travesty of justice."

"It's not exactly like our [system], no," counters Miccosukee tribe representative Guy Lewis, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. "But is it fair? Unequivocally, yes. Is it rigorous? You better believe it. I think the tribal court is probably more concerned with rehabilitation and kind of a family-oriented, holistic resolution than our courts are."

Former tribal Officer Alonzo Moncur says abiding by the tribe's "lenient" sense of justice "contradicts the oath that you take for the State of Florida." The Miami Gardens native joined the 80-plus-officer Miccosukee Police Department — which includes no tribe members — in November 2004 at age 23. He soon learned of the department's "backward" policies — such as letting drunk-driving suspects cool their heels in a cell until, he says, "they're ready to blow a triple zero," and then letting them go.

Another former cop, who requests anonymity, corroborates Moncur's claim. Now employed by another local force, he was a 19-year-old police novice when he enlisted in August 2004. After arresting a tribe member suspected of driving drunk, he says, officers were supposed to call a tribal judge at home. They were invariably given "catch-and-release" instructions, he says.

"That's pure fantasy," responds attorney Lewis. "They have axes to grind. [The anonymous officer] was fired, dismissed as a result of performance issues."

Soon after the anonymous policeman joined the force, he says, he spotted Chairman Cypress's silver Mercedes swerving recklessly as it sped west on Tamiami Trail. When he flashed his cruiser's light and pulled him over, the chairman was unapologetic. "He said, 'You know who I am, right?'" the officer says. "Then he shut the door and fled."

Cypress led him on a high-speed chase, the officer says, before finally pulling over again. "Fuck off," was the chairman's blunt greeting, claims the cop.

Cypress, he adds, was never charged in any court for the night's driving crimes. (Attorney Lewis says the cop fabricated the account.)

On January 29, 2006, the chairman was heading west along the Trail in his red Lincoln Mark LT pickup, according to court documents. Just before 10 p.m., he smashed into a white Ford Econoline van carrying Maria and Rene Aguilar. The Miami couple was on the way home from Fort Myers. According to an insurance analysis later filed in state court, Cypress was traveling in the wrong lane.

A blood test pegged the chairman's blood alcohol content at .141 — well over the legal limit of .08. During Cypress's ensuing DUI case in tribal court, he insisted he had downed no more than two Bud Lights.

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10 comments
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evalye
evalye

I am Naive American Indian, I am proud of my heritage and the progress we have made in the dominant "white" world. My father served in two wars fighting for this country. I was raised to respect all mankind, and hold all life as precious, and to be a teacher to those who wanted knowledge about my culture. I try to live by my family examples.

I am appalled at what I have read here. I am thinking what has happened to these people? Is this really happening? Then I remembered, my brother who was considered important and a prominent member of our tribe. He had an alcohol addiction he struggled with over a number of years. He was a successful business man despite the addiction, as he could stay sober for years at a time. His last months were spent drinking and within a four month period, he was stopped for DUI's three times by trbal police. He never went to court, and if he did he was slapped on the hand and let go. The fourth time he killed himself, and another.

I recieved an anonmynous phone call four days after his death from a gentleman describing himself as a police officer, he said," your brother and the other killed would be alive if I had done something, I am sorry". I know this type of thing exists everywhere. In defense of Native people its not just in "Indian Country". As human beings we all fail. We need to address these issues together.

Mike
Mike

I am sorry it is Tiger not Tyler.

Thank you

Mike
Mike

I see that the gangs have infected the natives too....Don't tell me those are native tattoos because they are not..That's a gang tattoo on tyler's neck.

Nestor
Nestor

There are more examples of misconduct by this tribe. In the early 90's it was common practice to purchase vehicles and simply not make payments. They would then drive into the reservation where banks were unable to reposses. On one instance, a tow truck driver, carrying a concelaed weapon permit was arrested after being given access to the reservation. His waepon was in his vehicle. The truck was impounded for about a year. DO NOT SPONSOR THESE PEOPLE'S LACK OF RESPECT. DO NOT VISIT THEIR CASINOS. YOU ARE ON THEIR TURF PLAYING BY THEIR RULES, AND THEY ACT WITH IMPUNITY!!!

Moses
Moses

It is a shame to read about this. Native Indians need to take control of their actions. They need to stop acting like little rich brats. I would suggest everyone to stop going to the Indian Casinos because they take your money, and they get you killed.

I always supported Native Americans because this is their land, and It was taken from there. However, it doesn't mean that they can hurt or do whatever they want. The law should apply to everyone equally. Steven Segal always obey this rule in his movies....Making everyone believe that natives were pasive people, but I guess not..

kat
kat

seriously... grow up (mary tiger). perhaps if you do, the children (judging by your last name) of your tribe would be able to grow up as well?! it is ridiculous for an indian tribe to be so set on not being part of the US when apparently they can't handle their own "territory" on their own anyway? let it be your deal if it was indians you killed on that highway - but it wasn't! it was US citizens. seriously... grow up. i hope that the truth comes out and the tribal police are able to admit what happened with some pride and respect for themselves.

ANA
ANA

TO: MARY TIGER, What they are writing is not lies, it is the truth and by your last name i would say you are probably an indian person. Get a hold on these irresponsible young men and stop hurting other people. I hope they go to Jail. They dont seem to care only about themselves.

ANA
ANA

GREAT STORY, much more information than the Miami Herald.I am shocked with the police records from the occupants of the car with the four indians. No wonder they were not speaking they were trying to cover up as much as possible. All Kent Billie does is get into trouble and the fact he just went to court in april on another incident. Now I see why the indians were hush hush. They tried to make him out as an inicent victim but the truth is he has a record on drinking, drugs and speeding. Shame on you Micossukkee Indians. The state attorneys will get to the bottom of this.

Mary Tiger
Mary Tiger

You should not write anything you don't have both sides of the story. All you are printing is lies. No better than most of the people in charge of this country.

 
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