Tribal tensions escalate in Rolling Hills dispute

Tribal tensions escalate in Rolling Hills dispute

CORNING, Calif. - Ousted tribal members used hired police Monday to try and shut down Rolling Hills Casino in Corning and Tehama County sheriff's deputies were brought in to keep the peace.

The turmoil began in April when four members of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians tribal council were suspended, leaving the tribal chairman and staff in charge of the casino.

Tribal Chairman Andy Freeman said the suspended councilors have been removed because they had a part in misappropriating some $2 million.

"It hurt me because I trusted them people more than my family," Freeman said.

Ousted Vice Chairman David Swearinger denies the allegations and said Freeman acted outside of the tribal constitution.

"We have processes of the way we do that and that was the wrong process that he took," Swearinger said. "He took it on himself to do that. "

Freeman is now the lone tribal council member allowed on Rolling Hills Casino property. He and his appointed administration are running the business and have banned the others from returning.

"The message has been very clear, you know, by putting armed guards there, that if we set foot on there we'll be met with force," suspended tribal treasurer Leslie Lohse said Monday.

In response to armed casino security brought in by Freeman and staff, suspended council members sent armed guards of their own to the casino on Monday. Those "police" with vehicles and uniforms marked "Nomlaki Tribal Police" made a failed attempt to shut the casino down.

Twelve deputies from the Tehama County Sheriff's Office were sent in to keep the peace without choosing sides.

Andy Freeman says the ousted members are trying to create chaos and hurt business.

"They're trying to make it look like we're doing bad and we don't know what we're doing."

He also says he doesn't see an end to the standoff anytime soon.

The suspended tribal members have reached out to the Bureau of Indian affairs and hold out hope the organization will send them a letter soon which will reinstate them. They have argued that they are the federally-recognized tribal government, not Freeman and those currently running the casino.

But even if that letter comes, suspended Councilor Gerri Freeman, cousin of Chairman David Freeman, said there are no guarantees it will quickly solve the tribe's problems.

"We're hoping so. But it's going to be hard, there's going to be a healing process that's going to take awhile."

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