ASU student says Salt River tribal police stole her car

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

TEMPE, Ariz. -- An Arizona State University student is blasting the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, claiming the tribal police unfairly seized her car over a marijuana cigarette.

The 20-year-old wanted to go by only her first name, Kayla, for this story.

Kayla said she was driving down the Loop 101 last November when she was pulled over for speeding by tribal police. 

"[The officer] asked me if I had any drugs or weapons in the vehicle and so I told him, 'Yes, I have a joint of marijuana on me,'" Kayla said.

The tribal police arrested Kayla for possession and DUI and seized her car.

"I know that what I did was wrong," she said. "I know that I made a mistake and I own up to that, but I think that the consequences of that mistake were far more dramatic than they should have been."

Kayla said the Salt River Indian Community held her car for four and a half months. She paid thousands of dollars in legal fees before the car was finally released on a technicality.

"The asset forfeitures are usually reserved for major felony crimes -- if someone's using a car to transport a trunk full of drugs for resale," said Kayla’s lawyer, Craig Rosenstein with the Rosenstein Law Group.

Rosenstein said most people, like Kayla, aren't aware that they are driving through sovereign reservation land while on a 12-mile stretch of the Loop 101 between McKellips and Pima/90th Street. He said when people are on reservation land they are subject to a different set of laws that vary significantly from the laws governing the State of Arizona.

"The laws of asset forfeiture on the reservation afford them to take the car with almost no amount of marijuana," Rosenstein said. "They can seize your car, sell it and then use the proceeds to buy whatever toys they want for the police department."

Salt River Indian Community spokeswoman Candace Romero denied allegations that the tribe is seizing cars along the 101 for financial gain.
 
"We are not out there actively pursuing people just to seize their vehicles," Romero told 3TV sister station KPHO. "We are under tribal orders and laws ... and this driver was breaking the law."

Romero also released this statement:

"The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community determines and initiates forfeiture once the Salt River Police Department determines that a crime has been committed according to Community law and Salt River Ordinance Article V Section 14-32. In this instance, the individual was stopped for a routine traffic violation – speeding. Officers smelled marijuana within the vehicle. The subject was found to have drug paraphernalia and several varieties of marijuana in their possession. The subject's vehicle was seized pursuant to Salt River Ordinance Article V Sect. 14-32 and was later released to the lien holder who was an innocent owner."