The Deputy grabbed an Indian teenager to use as a human shield
Before the bloodshed
of last April, the worst conflict in memory between Native Americans and the Sheriff's Department happened in May, 1987, when the building resentments against alleged police abuse sparked a riot.
Protesting their long history of mistreatment, about 100 citizens of the Reservation rioted in Covelo, smashing windows in the small downtown. In the melee, Deputy Craig Keiser grabbed an Indian teenager to use as a human shield.
The incident didn't end there. Three weeks later, Deputy Keiser and teenager Matt Daison met again. What happened is unclear; Keiser was stabbed, and Daison beaten so badly that an emergency room doctor told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen.
The angry situation between the cops and Natives continued near the boiling point for months. Daison was charged with attempted murder of the Deputy and aquitted, the jury believing that Deputy Keiser provoked the confrontation. In his testimony, Keiser admitted drinking heavily that night.
Jurors also insisted on a Grand Jury investigation into the Sheriff's Department. In retaliation, then-Sheriff Tim Shea withdrew officers from the area, leaving the community with the nearest police more than an hour's drive away in Willits.
Jim Tuso, elected Sheriff in 1990, was widely seen as an improvement over Shea. He campaigned on the Reservation and promised fair treatment for all Natives, including the hiring of resident deputies. Even this spring, the Press Democrat published an article praising his good relationship with citizens of the Reservation. The article, entitled "Sheriff Tuso, his deputies earning trust in Covelo" appeared March 26th -- less than two weeks before the bloody Good Friday night.
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