Help Find Legal Representation: Forward the message below to sympathetic lawyers and law professionals. This case has been described as being “wrapped in a bow” for the right lawyer.
If you are a law student or law professional:
- Bring This Case Up: in your classrooms and/or workplace, discuss with your classmates, coworkers, and professors.
- Provide Legal Advice: please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a law student or lawyer who can be available to answer questions for the pro se who have no legal training and –as most people outside the legal world– very limited understanding of the law and court procedure.
Messages for Legal Professionals
Dear potential legal supporters,
This is an urgent and time sensitive request for legal assistance on a police brutality case against indigenous people during a peaceful ceremony and picnic on private Onondaga property in 1997. Footage shows that 98 plaintiffs were assaulted by NY State Troopers, including a 3 month old baby who was injured and an 11 year old child who was arrested. In June of 2016, 73 plaintiffs pled out and signed non-disclosure agreement due to pressure from their attorneys, and state intimidation. There remain 15 elderly pro se plaintiffs who are mostly disabled from this incident that occurred in 1997 and have been representing themselves this summer. They are currently embroiled in a trial that started Tuesday, September 20th at the Northern District Federal Court (Syracuse) in front of Judge Frederick J. Scullin (appointed by George Bush).
Please find the initial complaint filed in 1998 here.
The case title is 5:98-cv-00374-FJS-TWD Jones, et al v. Parmley, et al
The following are our immediate needs that we are asking you to assist us with.:
The plaintiffs desperately need a legal representative who can help us draft and file a motion for mistrial and/or a motion of continuance to postpone the trial until a permanent counsel has time to properly prepare with the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are exposing their trauma to the court, only to endure belittling and demoralizing attacks from the judge and we need this abuse to stop until we assemble a proper legal team.
If you cannot represent these clients but have legal skills, we need help drafting these motions ASAP this can mean doing legal research or looking through court notes to identify legal issues we can use in the motions. We also need folks who can answer legal questions and anyone who can help them strategize on how to move forward.
We need people to sit in on the trial as these plaintiffs are being abused and re-traumatized by the judge, defense counsel, and even their court appointed “advisor.” Not only will this boost the plaintiffs’ morale and lend legitimacy to their cause, but it will help us to keep our own record of what is going on as we cannot access court transcripts. We can coordinate rides from NYC if you are from downstate and interested.
Activists from Ithaca area are working on plans to bring attention to the court and our media team is putting together materials for the press and social media. If you have connections with press, or applicable skills, please help us to mount public pressure on the judge.
If you are part of a student group or other organization, please make a banner or sign and take a group photo in solidarity! If you don’t have art skills, send your group picture to us and we’ll make a meme!
There is so much happening in this country right now about both police brutality and indigenous struggles that this could be a very unifying case for both movements. Unlike ever before, mainstream society has its ears turned towards theses issues and now is the time to give these indigenous elders the platform they have been struggling to find for 20 years.
To a Civil attorney, this case might as well be wrapped with a bow around it, waiting for you to take it on. Not only are there multiple videos of the unprovoked attack from credible news outlets, but there are tons of evidence and many people willing to come forward on this case. Back in May of 1997, citizens from across the haudenosaunee confederacy were gathered at the Jones’ family’s property on the side of I-81 to hold a sacred fire, and discuss political issues of the time. The State Troopers claim that these were protesters blockading the highway, but video footage shows that the Onondagas were at least 50 feet from the road. At the time of the attacks, elders and infants were assembled with the community as a Clan Mother was leading a sacred ceremony. The video shows that the state troopers’ have no case in arguing these people were trespassing on the highway. It shows that right before the attacks, one of the people yell “this is private property” but the police proceed with their nightsticks brandished. The beatings were prolonged and horrific. The potential damages are immense as most plaintiffs have suffered from disabilities related to this incident over the past 20 years.
The State’s attorney has already stalled the case for close to 20 years, and being that we are in trial, this case will not be a prolonged litigation. Prior counsel did cave to the AAG’s 2 decades of stalling, and pressured the 73 plaintiffs into a settlement of 2.7 million before fees. But the Onondaga 15 were some of the most horrifically abused and are committed to getting the payout and media attention they deserve.
The plaintiffs desperately need legal support because The judge is doing everything in his power to shame, belittle, and embarrass the plaintiffs into submission. They are armed with nothing but the painful articulations of their trauma from that day. On the day I was there, each plaintiff was allotted 5 minutes each for opening statements. Yet despite the re-traumatizing accounts that were difficult for them to share, most plaintiffs were cut short before 4 minutes and every single plaintiff was interrupted by the judge –who was extremely demeaning and humiliating– wrongfully claimed irrelevance to throw off the jury. A woman describing how she saved an infant that was removed from a car seat by a NYS trooper and thrown to the ground was interrupted (while crying) to be told that her statement was irrelevant. Meanwhile the Defense attorney was allotted 15 minutes and spoke for over 20 without a single interruption by the judge. During his statement, plaintiffs were hushed by the judge when making objections to his statement being totally off topic including drawn out comments about the children's series Harry Potter and the movie Jurassic Park (yes, really…). The Pro se assigned attorney just shrugged when the plaintiffs looked his way for advice and help addressing the blatant hypocrisy.Earlier that day, the jury of 12 was selected. 2 jurors are women, and only one juror is a man of color (who admitted to extensive ties to law enforcement during selection). This is a 75% white man’s jury and the plaintiffs need help making their case to this potentially unsympathetic audience.
Furthermore, much of the video was excluded from the courtroom as the judge ruled on the defense counsel’s limine motion without giving the Plaintiffs a chance to respond. We have been keeping our own record of these abuses and many more from the court and the plaintiffs need an eye to review these abuses to see if they should file for a mistrial or may have grounds for an appeal. The sooner we can put a stop to this abuse, the better, ideally during our call this evening at 6PM.
These are poor, elderly, and mostly disabled people living on the reservation, isolated from the networks and contacts in the settler world that we have access to. Anyone interested in this case should also be aware of the politically repressive context preventing the Onondaga 15 from being heard. Please be advised that the Onondaga tribal government, and their attorney Joe Heath have been actively suppressing our attempts to find these folks legal counsel even though they are suing the State Troopers and not the tribal government. The initial picnic and ceremony that the police raided in 1997 was in resistance to the tribal counsel’s attempts to take over local businesses and use tobacco and gas taxes for their personal gain. In retaliation to this gathering, Chief Alson Gibson signed the initial warrant, asking the NYS Troopers to get execute these arrests on grounds of trespass. The videos show they clearly had orders to exercise excessive force even when no trespass was being committed. While the 1997 attack was clearly the Nation’s way to retaliate against it’s own people and flex its relationships with the colonial powers, they are denying any relation with the 1997 incident.
When I reached out to the NLG Mass Defense listserv for support, Joe Heath, the tribal government’s attorney, used lies to discourage attorneys from lending us their support. He denied the Chiefs’ had involvement in these attacks. I responded with a copy of the 1997 warrant, and have not heard from him since. It is clear that the Onondaga Nation is covering up their violent practices and backing NY State’s oppression of their own people by denying them access to even the most basic legal counsel.
Through pursuing this trial, Plaintiffs have received massive retaliation, including the banishment and subsequent assassination of their lead plaintiff, Ron Jones Sr. in a 1999 arson attack. The Jones Family has substantiated reason to believe this was a politically targeted attack by the tribal counsel, as the chiefs blocked the roads to the burning house and told local firefighters and medical staff that nobody was in the house. Ron Jones Sr. was found in the rubble with his skull bashed in and no smoke in his lungs leading the autopsy report to declare his death a homicide. News reports from the time report that a lead suspect was found, but no charges were ever filed. The family has openly been sharing this story with the news for years, but nobody with connections in settler society has given them an ear to hear the evidence. There are a myriad of other allegations against the tribal counsel that have surfaced since lending our ears to the Onondagas and they need a legal professional to at least look into the credibility of their claims and ideally give them a fair shot in the press and court.
Retaliation has continued over the past 20 years through blockading, arson and bulldozing of dissident family’s businesses and homes. Most recently retaliation has escalated around the trial with threats of further assassinations, firings of supportive Onondagas, and on Friday a NY Police helicopter circled low above the Jones’ family home. Over the course of this trial, the plaintiffs have uncovered massive amounts of corruption on the nation, but people are scared to come forward without someone who can provide legal counsel. Should an attorney be interested, there is certainly grounds for further litigation against the tribal government for corruption. The documents I am sharing are only the tip of the iceberg here.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs claim that this tribal government was self-imposed and did not follow traditional protocol in advancing to power. Many people from other nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy have shown support for these allegations. Attached is documentation the plaintiffs have showed me that Onondaga chief, Oren Lyons, is not of the Onondaga nation. Many of the current chiefs have not followed traditional protocol to get their power, but have enough economic and political power that it does not matter. Simply by appealing to settler sentiments of New York State law enforcement, these chiefs have created an illusion of legitimacy, using the face of poor onondaga citizens to demand resources exclusively for their connected families. Meanwhile, many families, including some of the plaintiffs, still live without running water, septic, heat, or proper winter attire.
Many leftist settler organizations who care about indigenous issues have relied on the homogenizing logic of tokenization, and do not want to challenge federally backed tribal leaders. The last time that settlers on the left supported indigenous people in challenging their tribal council’s corruption was during the standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973 when the FBI used lethal force on Lakota people to support their imposed tribal government. In 1997, the “I-81 Indian Detail” did everything but fire weapons on these indigenous people to uphold the colonially backed Onondaga government. With the current political landscape in America, we should be able to help the Onondaga 15 get the legal and media platform they deserve.
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