Photo by Rosanda Suetopka Thayer
Joe Richards, who has since retired from service as the Sheriff of Coconino County, is still very actively involved in law enforcement policy development and suggestions to help outreaching agencies like the Hopi and Navajo reservations. Richards was in Tuba City Feb. 17 to assist Coconino County Board Supervisor Louise Yellowman in discussing some proactive strategies to alert Navajo politicians to the extremely dangerous and inadequate conditions of the current Tuba City adult jail facility.
Also attending the Tuba City meeting were Ray Daw, Yellowman’s assistant; Delores Greyeyes, director of the Department of Corrections, Window Rock; Lt. Clarence Bilagody, Community Department of Public Safety, Tuba City; Samson Cowboy, Division Director of the Division of Public Safety; retired County Sheriff Joe Richards; current Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil; Steven Nelson, acting Chief of Police, Tuba City, Ron Brown, TC Police Department; and several members of the Tuba City community.
On Dec. 9, with a majority vote of 32 people present, a group of concerned citizens at the Tuba City To’Nanees’Dizi Chapter passed a resolution, which Yellowman sponsored that stated: “Concerned citizens of Tuba City and the surrounding area respectfully request that the Navajo Nation Government, Navajo Nation President, Navajo Nation Vice President, 88 Navajo Nation Council members, and Navajo Nation Elected Officials to act immediately to demolish and rebuild the Tuba City Adult Detention Center/Police Station, Tuba City, Arizona.”
In the past, members of the media have toured the current TC adult detention facility to document the deplorable conditions, including a reporter from the Navajo Times and local news station, Channel 12. The tour also included visits from Rick Renzi, who currently serves as the Republican representative in Congress for this reservation area. However, nothing has been done to rectify the unsafe conditions.
Community members present at the meeting made comments about the lack of response, including retired Sheriff Richards.
“If this situation were off the reservation, there would be a possibility of class action law suit by the community because of the totally inadequate conditions of the TC jail,” Richards said. “Off the reservation, people are fined $200 a day for each inmate for conditions like this. It seems like no one at the decision making level cares.”
Richards described a possible fix for the problem.
“A short-term solution would be to secure emergency funding from the Navajo Nation, then place the current detainees in outside support detention facilities, until a permanent solution can be met,” he said. “I am really frustrated, as an outside ‘Bilaghaana,’ because I see no progress. I am amazed at the patience and tenacity that you as community people have had to make do with such inadequate jail facilities.”
Richards suggested getting Rep. Renzi and the Bureau of Indian Affairs involved.
“I would like to see Rick Renzi be persuaded to get the BIA to divert some of those BIA funds to assist this community for something this critical, but this project is not even on the list of BIA building priorities,” Richards said. “I would be happy to accompany Renzi to D.C. to see if we can get the BIA to provide some real monetary assistance.”
Robert Begay, a Tuba City community member, also addressed the dire jail situation.
“This is really a serious problem because like all the major disasters lately, 9/11 or the tsunami, there are innocent lives at stake, because housing or setting free these law breakers is a community safety issue,” he said. “Why can’t we ask for money from the homeland security funds; we’re American citizens and voters.
“How are we provided for on our own home reservation? Its pretty disgusting that we cannot even help our own people with such a critical jail facility need when the Navajo Nation just sent $7 million dollars to the poor victims in India, but we also need help here at home.”
Yellowman is set to coordinate another meeting in March for a further community awareness, information and input. For more information on the Tuba City adult jail conditions, call Louise Yellowman or Ray Daw at the local Tuba City Branch office for Coconino County Board of Supervisors, District 5 (928-283-4518).