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Stay away from Indian casino, says deputies union

June 03, 2008|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

The Riverside County Sheriff's Assn., a union representing thousands of employees, has warned its members and the public to stay away from the Soboba Indian casino near San Jacinto because of recent violence.

The group urged its roughly 3,700 members to visit other casinos until the situation at Soboba was "stabilized."

The reservation was the scene of two shootouts last month between Riverside County sheriff's deputies and several tribe members who used rifles against officers, their vehicles and a helicopter. Three tribal members died in those gun battles.

In the last six months, six Soboba members, including the son of a former tribal chairwoman, have been fatally shot in confrontations with deputies.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection will no longer respond to calls on the reservation without a police escort.

"Due to recent violence against Riverside County deputy sheriffs and a concern that the situation remains unstable for [union] members as well as the general public, the Riverside County Sheriff's Assn. is recommending that its members and the general public avoid the Soboba Casino for their off-duty leisurely activities," the alert said, before listing nine other Indian casinos to patronize. The alert was sent out Friday.

Tribal Council member Rose Salgado said the tribe didn't want to bring the public into the controversy.

"The recent tragic events were unrelated to the casino and had no impact on the safety or welfare of either casino patrons or employees. In fact, the casino parking lot was used as the command center for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and the media during both incidents," she said in a prepared statement. "It is not productive to have an outside agency such as the Riverside County Sheriff's Assn. hinder the process of mediation between the tribe, the United States Department of Justice, and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department -- an agency that they are supposed to be helping, not alienating."

Since the latest shootings last month, tribal leaders have held two closed sessions with local authorities and federal officials in an effort to reduce tensions on the reservation.

Jack Schwartz, a lawyer for the tribe, has been investigating whether law enforcement violated the civil rights of Soboba members when they responded to the incidents.

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david.kelly@latimes.com

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