Proposed bill prevents fugitives from fleeing to tribal lands

U.S. Reps. Kristi Noem and Trey Gowdy have introduced legislation to close a loophole for fugitives.

The Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) currently poses challenges to local law enforcement in apprehending dangerous individuals who flee to Indian reservations. The “No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act” would prevent suspects who allegedly commit crimes in South Dakota and then evading arrest by entering Indian Country.

Noem said the bill respects the values and sovereignty of tribal lands, while also protecting others from becoming victims of violent crimes.

“There’s a two-fold benefit from this legislation,” Noem said. “It not only gives victims the justice that they need – it also is protecting other children, other adults in that community from being victimized as well. And I do want to make sure that we’re clear, that we put language inside this bill that said that the tribal sovereignty issue was going to be respected, that this in no way degrades tribal sovereignty."

Currently, federal law enforcement does not have the authority to apprehend a suspect who flees to a South Dakota Indian reservation after allegedly committing a crime in the state.

Noem was joined by Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris, who said current laws restrict law enforcement’s efficiency.

“The UFAP, or Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution, issue has really hand-strung law enforcement within South Dakota,” Jegeris said. “And the end result is reduced stability to ensure public safety.”

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said public safety is a priority, and the proposal will help alleviate frustrations.

“It’s frustrating for us in law enforcement,” Thom said. “A suspect flees to – I’ll use Pine Ridge as an example. Forty other states can extradite that person from Pine Ridge. But us in South Dakota, can’t extradite that person from Pine Ridge. This fixes that loophole.”

Officials also stressed that the modification will not give state entities authority to arrest Native Americans on reservations. Only federal authorities may execute the UFAP warrant in Indian Country.