Violence Breaks Out on Reservation over Casino Control
LAKEPORT, Calif. (AP) _ The few residents who did not flee the Elem Indian Colony were holed up inside their houses Thursday or arming themselves against violence that erupted over control of a casino.
The dispute prompted five days of shootings that have injured at least seven people at the 100-resident reservation and sent at least four to jail. The county SWAT team has been called in three times.
The latest trouble in the ongoing casino dispute began Saturday, when one faction of the Lake County Pomo tribe sought to oust another from its leadership role in a disputed election that replaced four opponents of reservation chairman Thomas Brown.
A grand jury is investigating Brown’s management of the Pomo Palace casino. Opponents accuse him of diverting profits, committing election fraud and other wrongdoing. Brown denies the allegations.
Tensions on the reservation, on the shores of Clearlake about 90 miles north of San Francisco, escalated into a fist fight Sunday afternoon. That was followed by an outbreak of gunfire that has continued sporadically for five days, said Rhoda Thomas, a tribal member reached at her home Thursday.
By Thursday, many of the colony’s residents left the reservation with their children, Thomas said. Most of those remaining were hiding inside their houses or behind barricades or had armed themselves.
Authorities counted more than 100 bullet holes in homes. They have called on four neighboring sheriff’s departments for help and are patrolling the area by air.
Brown could not be reached for comment Thursday, and there was no answer at the reservation office.
Last year, there was a struggle for control of the Pomo Palace and the neighboring Elem Casino, where video poker and video pool are played.
On Sunday, a group of teen-agers got into a name-calling spat that escalated when one hit another over the head with a beer bottle, Thomas said. Someone else shot another person in the back and then gunfire broke out.
Although the first shooting was not connected with the election or the casino problem, tensions spilled over and the two factions began fighting, Thomas said.
One group barricaded themselves inside the casino to prevent the opposition faction from taking it over. Some armed teen-agers took guard inside their homes to protect whatever property they could, Thomas said.
``I know now how it feels to be dodging bullets and I don’t wish that to happen to anybody,″ she said. ``It’s scary because these are my relatives and I’m afraid for them.″