PROVIDENCE -- Governor Don Carcieri must testify at the criminal trial of seven Narragansett Indians accused of obstructing or assaulting State Police who raided an illegal tribal smoke shop four years ago, a judge ruled yesterday.
Defense lawyers for the Narragansetts plan to argue that police used too much force when arresting the seven defendants, including Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, during a dusty parking lot scuffle.
They want Carcieri to testify about an order he has said he issued to State Police instructing them to withdraw if they met resistance from tribe members or their supporters. Earlier this week, the retired superintendent of the State Police testified that he never received those instructions.
Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl said the rights of the seven Narragansetts to put on a defense and cross-examine witnesses outweighed any executive privilege that might shield Carcieri from testifying.
"The rights of the criminal defendants are not limitless, but they must be protected," she said.
Rhode Island's Supreme Court has never ruled on whether a sitting governor can be forced to take the witness stand. Michael Maynard, a spokesman for Carcieri, said the governor has not decided if he will appeal.
"Whatever the final disposition, it is important to remember that this trial is not about the governor's actions but about the actions of the defendants," Maynard said in a statement.
The defendants are charged with crimes including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assaulting police. If convicted, they could face up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Their trial, scheduled for Sept. 17, could offer a glimpse into the tense relationship between Rhode Island's government and its only federally recognized American Indian tribe.
After failing to win lawmaker approval for a casino, the Narragansett tribal government opened a smoke shop on its Charlestown land in July 2003 and refused to collect state-mandated taxes. Negotiations broke down between Carcieri and the tribe. He eventually authorized State Police to search the shop after they received court permission.