BIA may pull $35 million police contract

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, AZ., February 2, 2012

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Recent allegations of misconduct by Division of Public Safety Director John Billison and top police commanders has jeopardized a multi-million dollar federal contract that funds police services on the Navajo Reservation.

"Due to the seriousness of the allegations, the Navajo Nation is requested to provide a corrective action response by Feb. 9, 2012, as (to) how these alleged misconducts by law enforcement personnel are being handled and addressed," states a Jan. 10, 2012, letter to President Ben Shelly from the Navajo Region BIA office.

The Navajo Times, which has published several recent stories about Billison's alleged actions, obtained a copy of the letter from an anonymous source.

"Should the Navajo Nation not provide an adequate response, we will consider both contracts in non-compliance to the Police Standard of Qualifications," the letter states.

The amount of funding at risk is estimated at about $35 million.

The allegations at issue include interference with an internal investigation into Billison's own domestic violence history, and concealment of domestic violence charges against a crony he'd slated for promotion, and a third allegation involving mismanagement of federal funds by a former police chief.

Billison has not responded to numerous requests for comment from the Navajo Times.

On Wednesday, Shelly and his entourage were at the Navajo Nation Museum for an official event when the Navajo Times showed him a copy of the letter and asked for comment on the threatened funding withdrawal, which would bring police operations here to a standstill if carried out.

"I thought someone is innocent until proven guilty," Shelly said.

He handed the letter to executive office attorney Heather L. Clah, directed Clah to answer any additional questions from the Times, and turned his back on the Times reporter.

Clah quickly tucked the letter into her portfolio. She said the tribe's Department of Justice is handling the BIA's request for information and would have a response by the Feb. 9 deadline. She declined to answer other questions, instead repeating her first statement.

According to the BIA letter, the federal Office of Justice Services, which oversees the police grants, conducted its annual compliance monitoring with a visit to the reservation from Dec. 19 to Dec. 22.

Included was a review of personnel files to confirm that DPS personnel met the federal minimum qualification and training standards to do their jobs.

The letter stated that the personnel review was prompted by Navajo Times articles published on Dec. 15, 2011, and Dec. 22, 2011, that raised "serious concerns" about the Law Enforcement's Patrol and Criminal Investigations Programs, which is funded by two federal Public Law 93-638 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance contracts.

"The articles alleged misconduct of top police officials of the Navajo Nation's Law Enforcement Department," the BIA stated, enumerating the following concerns:

1. Top police department official faces cover-up accusations. A domestic violence protection order was filed in 2004 thorough the Maricopa County Superior Court after a female placed a complaint accusing the official of physically, sexually, and verbally assaulting her. The complaint detailed incidents of extreme violence. It further mentions a captain's falsification of a police report.

2. Domestic violence charges against a former acting Internal Affairs director.

3. Acting criminal investigator captain's alleged termination as chief of police for mismanagement of federal funds.

Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau), chairman of the Council's Law and Order Committee, said he had hoped that Shelly would share his response to the BIA when he met with the committee Monday.

But instead Shelly sent a policy analyst, Dawn Yazzie, and Billison to the meeting. Their reports focused on DPS restoring insurance coverage for all of its vehicles, the topic of another recent news story.

On Jan. 9, the Law and Order Committee voted unanimously to ask Shelly to remove Billison for placing the tribe at "significant financial risk" by failing to payment the insurance premiums for 93 DPS vehicles, including 88 police units.

The committee also cited several other allegations against Billison. He is accused of trying to thwart an investigation by his own department into a complaint that he pointed his service weapon at a friend and threatened to kill him during an off-hours poker game.

Billison's signature is on a form approving the transfer of $57,000 in operational funds to pay for Christmas bonuses in the Criminal Investigations Department.

And he was the subject of a Maricopa County Court protection order from 2002 to 2004.

Shelly refused the committee's request to remove Billison, who has failed to respond to numerous requests from the Navajo Times for an interview.

Yazzie said no one asked Billison about the BIA letter at Monday's meeting, although all members of the Law and Order Committee received a copy last week.

"We didn't talk about that and none of the committee members brought it up," he said.

Yazzie said the committee has decided to wait for Shelly to respond to the BIA and then will ask him to meet with them.

He estimated the federal law enforcement contracts to be about $35 million.

Yazzie did not know the total number of public safety personnel that are funded under the contracts. According to the last report his committee received, the tribe's entire police force, or about 238 full-time officers, is funded under the 638 contracts, he said.

At press time Wednesday, the Navajo Times was awaiting copies of the two contracts that it requested from the BIA's Freedom of Information Office