HELENA - A state senator and suspended Blackfeet leader has pleaded guilty in tribal court to charges similar to those he faces in federal court over fleeing a sheriff's deputy who stopped him for erratic driving.
Shannon Augare's surprise tribal court appearance and guilty plea Wednesday is the latest twist in a case that has become a testing ground for federal versus tribal jurisdiction in prosecuting American Indians for misdemeanor crimes.
It is unclear what effect Augare's new plea will have on the pending charges of drunken driving, reckless driving and obstruction of a peace officer that he faces in U.S. District Court. A Nov. 7 trial is set in that case.
U.S. attorney spokeswoman Victoria Francis and Augare attorney Joe McKay both declined comment Thursday. Augare did not return a call or email.
Augare was charged, pleaded guilty and sentenced in one day Wednesday to threatening a public official, DUI and reckless driving, according to Blackfeet court documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Blackfeet Chief Judge Allie Edwards' order gives Augare a 37-day suspended jail sentence and a $1,150 fine. Augare won't have to pay any of that fine if he buys $200 worth of toys for a Toys for Tots program by Dec. 12.
Augare also is ordered to obtain a chemical dependency evaluation, according to the order.
Augare is accused of revving his engine and fleeing a Glacier County sheriff's deputy during a May traffic stop on U.S. Highway 2 within the northwestern Montana reservation's boundaries. The deputy did not pursue Augare, but turned the matter over to the Blackfeet law enforcement agency.
Blackfeet chief prosecutor Carl Pepion gave the case to the U.S. attorney's office after weeks without a decision on whether to prosecute Augare. Federal prosecutors filed charges of DUI, reckless driving and obstruction of a peace officer under the Assimilative Crimes Act, which allows them to apply state laws to offenses committed in federal enclaves that are not specifically addressed in federal law.
Pepion was not authorized to turn over the case to U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter, tribal officials said. The charges prompted a legal battle in which McKay, Augare's attorney, argued unsuccessfully that the Blackfeet tribe has sole jurisdiction over victimless misdemeanor cases involving Indians on the reservation.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong ruled Oct. 1 the federal government shares jurisdiction with tribal governments in such cases.
A little more than three weeks later, Augare was charged and sentenced in tribal court.
Augare, a Browning Democrat, was suspended from the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council by chairman Willie Sharp Jr. after Augare refused the chairman's request to step aside until his legal problems are resolved.