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Tensions Rise After Gunfights on California Reservation

The chairman of a Southern California Indian tribe that has seen three people killed by deputies during gunbattles on its land in the past week accused local law enforcement Wednesday of using the reservation as a practice range.

A man and woman were killed late Monday in a shootout with Riverside County sheriff's deputies on the Soboba Indian reservation 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Two sons of a former tribal chairwoman have also been killed by deputies in recent years, including one who was shot May 8 after firing at deputies with an assault rifle.

Tribal Chairman Robert Salgado said deputies did not treat the tribe as a sovereign nation and withheld information from the tribe before and after the shootings.

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"Right now they've got their own plan, and they use us as a practice area — they come out and blow people away," Salgado charged. "If they've got a felon, they've got parole officers and ways of taking out the problem. You don't come in here and bring in the whole army."

He also criticized the deputy-enforced lockdown of the reservation after the shootings.

"We were hostage in our own homes, our own territory," Salgado said.

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department identified the second person killed in the shootout as Angelica Lopez, 30, of San Jacinto. Lopez was also known as Tamara Angela Hurtado, said Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez. He didn't know if Lopez was a tribal member or what her relation was to the other dead person, Joseph Arres, 36.

The two were killed during a gunbattle that began when deputies responded to reports that the suspects were firing at a checkpoint at the reservation's main entrance. Five deputies, four SWAT officers and a helicopter were involved in a pursuit and shootout miles inside the reservation. Two assault-style weapons — including one that's illegal in California — were recovered at the scene, Gutierrez said.

Tribal leaders, sheriff's deputies, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and local congressional representatives were to meet on Friday to try to reduce tension between the tribe and the Sheriff's Department. The tribe severed its joint patrol agreement with the department about two years ago, citing the expense, but deputies are required to respond to 911 calls there under the law.

Salgado also said he believed the tribe's move toward replacing department oversight with tribal enforcement for certain civil matters, such as domestic violence, exacerbated tensions with the local sheriff's station head, whom he referred to as "General Custer."

Salgado said he planned to ask for the captain's removal as part of any agreement with the Sheriff's Department.

"Custer has risen again and he has the 7th Cavalry coming out to the reservation," Salgado said. "We'd like to request the removal of Custer."

James Fletcher, the superintendent for the BIA's Southern California Agency, confirmed that the tribe had issues with the captain of the local substation and refused to participate in talks unless he was not involved.

Fletcher also said the BIA has asked the federal Department of Justice if it can provide mediation assistance in the form of specialists who work with communities where there have been multiple shootings by law enforcement.