Feds Conduct Drug Sweeps of North Carolina Tribal Lands
On September 27, federal and state officers arrested 76 people on drug trafficking charges on western North Carolina tribal land. In an undercover operation that began weeks ago, the officers served arrest warrants on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ reservation and in nearby communities, reportedly seizing 250 pounds of heroin, methamphetamines, and other drugs.
The sweep is the latest in the Trump administration’s efforts and resources committed to inflicting a strict crackdown on the opioid crisis, known as the “Opioid Reduction Task Force.” Approximately 16,000 members live on the 56,000-acre reservation known as the Qualla Boundary where it took place, just west of Asheville and close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Those arrested now face charges of possession with intent to distribute, which carries up to 20 years or life imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine, if convicted.
The 20-year term is more typical for these kinds of charges in North Carolina, leading to some questions as to why “life imprisonment” has been mentioned as an option in connection with these arrests. According to the news release from federal prosecutors, the possibility of serving a much longer sentence (life) in this case is supposedly due to “the circumstances of their charges.”
Is This Racial Profiling? Are The Feds Unfairly Targeting Tribal Communities?
The arrest brings some concerns from criminal justice and civil rights advocates, who raise issues of potential racial profiling when it comes to this particular raid—and others—on tribal lands; specifically arguing that these law enforcement efforts are unusually aggressive, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. In addition to this incident, a two-year investigation led by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Division of Drug Enforcement and the DEA led to another recent arrest of almost 60 individuals charged with trafficking opiates and methamphetamines throughout North Carolina’s “Indian Country.” And in May, the new task force seized almost $5 million in drugs from tribal reservations in Arizona alone. These efforts stem from an announcement made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year, indicating that the Justice Department would be assisting with efforts to crackdown on drugs in “Indian Country” throughout the U.S.
The crackdown is also not just limited to opiates and methamphetamines: A number of tribes have also had federal agents seizing and eradicating thousands of cannabis plants and, in doing so, confusing those who were actually legally linked to the operation, as the plants were intended for lawful research into growing industrial hemp, which is distinguishable from marijuana and has explicitly been legal at the federal level since 2014.
Contact Our North Carolina Criminal Defense/Drug Charges Attorneys
If you or a loved one has been unfairly targeted by law enforcement and charged with a drug crime, you need to speak with an attorney who has local experience defending those accused of drug crimes in North Carolina, and who will also work aggressively to ensure that your civil rights have not been violated. Contact the Henderson, North Carolina office of Dysart Willis today to find out more about our criminal defense services. We are proud to serve members of our tribal communities and others.