HELENA — A Blackfeet tribal councilman and state senator accused of fleeing an officer during a traffic stop has refused a request by the tribe’s chairman to remove himself from his duties until his legal troubles are behind him.
Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. made the request of Sen. Shannon Augare, D-Browning, in a letter Friday, asking Augare to “respectfully step away” from tribal business so he can be involved in defending himself against the charges he faces.
They will “determine what avenue is to be taken” regarding Augare’s reinstatement after the issue is resolved, Sharp’s letter said.
Augare is charged with misdemeanor counts of drunken driving, reckless driving and obstruction of a peace officer. He is accused of fleeing a Glacier County sheriff’s deputy who had pulled him over in May on U.S. Highway 2 within the boundaries of the northwestern Montana reservation.
Augare already has been excused from interim committee work at the Legislature because of the allegations, and Sharp noted Augare previously said he did not want to harm the image or business of the state.
“I would wish that you hold this true also for the Blackfeet Nation and our tribal members/citizens in regards to the attention and negative response it has caused for all,” Sharp wrote.
Augare did not respond to a call for comment Monday. However, his office provided The Associated Press with a copy of his letter in response to Sharp, also dated Friday.
Augare rejected Sharp’s request, saying the chairman made it in “political retaliation” after Augare questioned some of the actions taken by Sharp and Vice Chairman Forrestina Calf Boss Ribs.
Augare also questioned the timing of the request, saying nearly six months have passed since he reported his legal troubles to the tribal council.
“If a majority of the Council thought it was best for me to step down, I would respect their wishes and do so,” Augare wrote. “Until then, I will continue to do my job and abide by my oath of office.”
Sharp did not return a request for comment on whether he would call for such a vote.
Augare is accused of fleeing the deputy, who had pulled him over after receiving calls of an erratic driver. The senator allegedly told the deputy he had no jurisdiction to stop him on the reservation.
He is being prosecuted in federal court after Blackfeet chief prosecutor Carl Pepion referred the case to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Trial is scheduled for Nov. 7.