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Standing Rock drug case prosecuted in 2 courts

FARGO (AP) -- Authorities say a drug trafficking case on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota and South Dakota is unique because it will be prosecuted in both federal and tribal courts.

Seventeen people were arrested Tuesday in the case known as Operation Prairie Thunder. Prosecutors say 10 defendants were scheduled to appear in federal court in North Dakota, two in federal court in South Dakota, and five in Standing Rock tribal court.

Timothy Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, and Brendan Johnson, U.S. attorney for South Dakota, say such cooperative efforts between the two courts are unique but necessary.

"Cooperation like this means better law enforcement, better prosecutions and safer communities," Purdon said.

Said Johnson, "These indictments illustrate the progress that is being made in Standing Rock and throughout Indian country in South Dakota and North Dakota."

The defendants who are being prosecuted in tribal court face misdemeanor charges, which would likely have to be bumped up to felonies in federal court or dropped altogether.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Miller of North Dakota made a visit to Standing Rock on Tuesday to handle initial appearances.

"Providing adequate representation for tribal members often involves big challenges of geography for indigent clients," said Neil Fulton, who heads the federal public defender's office in the Dakotas. "Bringing the courthouse to the defendants in certain cases is a creative way to respect tribal sovereignty and facilitate adequate and timely representation for all persons charged with crimes."

He had no specific comment about the case.

The federal court defendants are charged with possession with intent to distribute drugs. At least six people are charged with dealing prescription drugs. The tribal court charges are for criminal sale of drugs, criminal possession of drugs and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia.

Defendants charged in federal court in North Dakota are Casey Dogskin, Donald White Lightning, Francis Lester, Bryan See Walker, Paul Miner, Sage Claymore, James Grant, Muriel Long Feather, Winfield Kills Crow and Allen Siegfried.

Chaske Little Bear and Francine Jensen are charged in federal court in South Dakota.

Tribal court defendants are Lance Summers, Chad Yellow Lodge, Odette Elk, Rodney Claymore and Claude Ramsey.

Grant Walker, the Standing Rock chief prosecutor, said it's important for the tribe to participate in the prosecution.

"By being a partner in this operation, the Standing Rock Tribe is able, through the exercise of its own sovereignty, to make its own important contribution to the safety of its community," Walker said.

The investigation took 14 months and was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services on the Standing Rock Reservation.