Ilani Casino, Clark County seal policing deal

One-year agreement lets deputies on reservation for law enforcement

By Jake Thomas, Columbian staff writer

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With less than a week until the Cowlitz Indian Tribe opens its much-anticipated Ilani Casino Resort, the Clark County council unanimously approved a one-year agreement Tuesday that will allow sheriff’s deputies to enter the reservation for law enforcement purposes.

Without an agreement in place, law enforcement wouldn’t be allowed to enter the tribe’s sovereign territory in northern Clark County. The tribe effectively has no law enforcement of its own, and the agreement allows sheriff’s deputies as well as police officers from nearby Ridgefield and La Center to enter the reservation to enforce the law.

Under the agreement, local law enforcement can arrest non-Indians suspected of committing crimes or misdemeanors on the reservation. Tribal members suspected of crimes or misdemeanors can only be temporarily detained by local law enforcement until federal agents arrive. To help cover law enforcement costs, the agreement requires the tribe to pay the county $250,000. Additionally, the tribe will make payments to the county to cover jail and court costs, as well as prosecuting attorneys’ services for incidents arising from the reservation.

“We are on the verge of opening our casino,” said Bill Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz tribe, who thanked the county for the work on the agreement. “This is an important element of public safety.”

The casino is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Monday and be open 24 hours a day thereafter.

The county has a mutual aid agreement with other local law enforcement agencies, including the municipal police departments of small cities in Clark County, that allows them to cooperate with each other and for officers to enter each other’s jurisdictions. Although the agreement allows these agencies to enter the reservation for law enforcement reasons, Council Chair Marc Boldt noted that police from nearby Ridgefield and La Center “don’t believe they can come on as back up to the sheriff” without their own agreements with the tribe.

“(La Center) is the key to your success, and so is Ridgefield,” said Boldt.

Phillip Harju, the tribe’s vice chair and attorney, said the Cowlitz are working on agreements with the cities. After the meeting, Harju said in an email that the tribe approved the agreement with the county Friday.

Although she voted to support the agreement, Councilor Jeanne Stewart expressed concern that the sheriff’s office won’t be hiring any additional deputies to cover the increase in calls that will come from the casino.

“We cannot take law enforcement away from our existing needs and send them to the casino without making a provision for actually adding law enforcement, and there’s a cost to that,” Stewart said.

Jane Vetto, the prosecuting attorney who drafted the agreement, responded by saying that the tribe and the sheriff’s office would be working out the details on responding to incidents to the casino.

The approval of the agreement marks a significant change of course for the county, which had gone to lengths to oppose the casino but changed its position as its completion became inevitable.

“It’s been a lot of water under this bridge,” said Boldt.