Heavy police presence mars Fort Defiance meeting

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

FORT DEFIANCE, May 3, 2012

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(Times photo - Marley Shebala)

A heavy Navajo Nation Police presence at the water town hall at the Fort Defiance Chapter on April 26 included full-body scans before individuals were allowed to enter the meeting.

P eople who got past the Navajo Nation Police roadblock, through an opening in the steel fence surrounding the Fort Defiance Chapter large enough for one person, then a full body scan by police at the chapter entrance were among a crowd of about 240 that attended the water town hall on April 27.

Sherrick Roanhorse, chief of staff for President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim, said the police presence was for the public's safety.


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Navajo Police public information officer Harlan Cleveland, also said that the police were there for the public's safety.

Cleveland reported that 25 officers were at the Fort Defiance meeting, including the Strategic Response Team, the police's version of a SWAT unit.

Police had a roadblock about a quarter mile south of the chapter on Navajo Route 12, where vehicles were re-routed down a dirt road to Tse Ho Tso Boulevard, then back onto Navajo Route 12, where they were met by another roadblock.

Traffic was directed into a large unpaved area outside the chapter's parking lot. The chapter had a large steel fence surrounding the parking lot and chapter complex, which includes the senior citizen center.

Two Navajo Nation fire trucks and a medical emergency vehicle were parked on the north side of the dirt parking lot.

Individuals then had to walk through a gate in the steel fence only big enough to allow a single person at a time.

At the chapter's doorway, several uniformed police officers stood. Hand-held body scanners were used to inspect individuals entering the chapter.

A female tribal employee, who asked not to be identified because she feared retaliation, including removal from her job, said that the police presence didn't make her feel safe.

"It's intimidating," she said. "And blocking off the road is ridiculous. All these police officers, police cars, emergency vehicles, fire trucks are a waste of resources. Doesn't the police have a tight budget?"

Rochelle Todea, who lives in St. Michaels, said about the full-body scans, "I think it was inappropriate, especially when I've been hearing tribal leaders talk about ké and respect."

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