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Lake County tribe defends eviction of rancheria residents

Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.

The leader of a Lake County Indian tribe has defended the eviction of a tribal member that turned into a melee, resulting in the arrest of seven people.

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Tracey Avila

Robinson Rancheria Chairwoman Tracey Avila said the eviction Wednesday was one of two last week involving non-payment of rent, and not motivated by tribal rivalries or controversies over disenrollment.

“It's clearcut and simple: for non-payment of rent. I don't believe there is any political involvement at all,” she said.

The evictions were the latest in a series in the past year at the rancheria off Highway 20, between Upper Lake and Nice, where the tribe also operates a casino.

Tribal leaders say those evicted were not paying housing fees. But some previous evictees had been disenrolled from the 477-member tribe and complained they were being uprooted by politics and greed.

During the eviction on Wednesday, authorities anticipated there could be trouble. Indeed there was, although an estimated 15 to 20 law enforcement personnel — including sheriff's deputies, tribal police and Highway Patrol officers — were there to monitor the situation.

“I was aware evictions were going to go on. I got word there was a big problem brewing out there,” said Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson, who went to the rancheria after being asked to mediate. “There'd been some problems before, not this bad.”

Sheriff's officials said deputies were there as part of a “civil standby” to prevent criminal acts from taking place.

One of the evictions took place in a crowded apartment during a prayer ceremony involving more than 15 people.

When apartment resident Dwayne Duncan, 34, refused an order to leave, he was placed in handcuffs by Rancheria Police Commander John Irwin, according to a statement from the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

But when Irwin tried to escort Duncan out of the dwelling, he was surrounded by the people inside and pushed backwards, according to sheriff's Lt. Steve Brooks.

As sheriff's deputies moved inside “to create a safe path for Commander Irwin,” the crowd inside the apartment pushed and shoved deputies, refusing to move out of the way, Brooks said.

The pushing intensified, a melee ensued and Dwayne Duncan's uncle, Douglas Duncan, 57, of Oakland, allegedly hit two deputies with a bamboo stick.

One deputy was struck over the head and received minor injuries.

Nina Duncan, 31, of Lucerne, allegedly grabbed and attempted to remove a holstered firearm from one of the deputies, who was trying to assist Commander Irwin.

In all, seven people were arrested on suspicion of obstructing or delaying a peace officer. Some face a variety of other potential charges, including Douglas Duncan, who was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

Kenneth Duncan, 26, of Lucerne, Dwayne Duncan's brother, was arrested on suspicion of battery and resisting arrest.

All have been released on bail.

“Nobody was resisting. There was no battery,” Kenneth Duncan said Friday.

“We was doing our prayer song. Our spirits were running through us. We were singing,” he said of the ceremony officers encountered.

He said the reasons for the eviction were “bogus.”

But Tribal Chairwoman Avila said Dwayne Duncan and his wife Monica Anderson had not paid rent on the low-income apartment for nearly two years.

They also were not authorized to be in the apartment, originally designated for Anderson's sister, according to Avila.

“We offered repayment agreements, they didn't want to talk about it,” Avila said.

For a while at the rancheria she said there was no enforcement when residents didn't pay rent, but that has changed and tenants “have been paying consistently now.”

She said a federal judge granted the eviction order for Duncan, which was sought by the tribe's housing commission.

The Lake County News quoted a sister of Dwayne Duncan as saying her brother was seeking a 30-day extension of the eviction order and the tribe had withheld per capita payments — which are allocated to tribal members from casino profits — to cover rent and utilities.

But Avila said per capita payments are typically withheld only to pay back loans that have been advanced to tribal members.

Avila, who has been chairwoman of the tribe since 2006, faces charges of embezzling $61,000 from a neighboring tribe. She is awaiting trial on charges of grand theft, accused of giving herself unauthorized pay raises, benefits and loans she didn't pay back while working as a bookkeeper for the Elem Band of Pomo Indians between February 2006 and September 2008.

She declined to comment on the case Friday.

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