GREAT FALLS — State Sen. Shannon Augare pleaded not guilty Tuesday to fleeing a sheriff's deputy who stopped him for drunken driving, and his attorney pledged to challenge a federal court's jurisdiction in a case that would usually be handled by the tribal justice system.
Augare, a Browning Democrat and a member of the governing Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in a case that has exposed the complex and tangled jurisdictional issues involving federal, state and tribal law enforcement in Montana.
Strong set a Sept. 26 trial date. Augare's attorney, Joe McKay, told the judge he would seek to remove the case from federal court.
"It's an unprecedented assertion of federal jurisdiction," McKay said.
It was Augare's first public appearance since a Glacier County sheriff's deputy pulled him over for erratic driving on May 26. Augare, who had his mother in the pickup truck after a night of drinking at a Cut Bank bar with his family, ignored the deputy's order to turn off the engine and sped away when the deputy reached in to take his keys, prosecutors said.
Augare told the deputy before driving off that he had no jurisdiction to arrest him. The traffic stop happened on U.S. Highway 2 within the Blackfeet reservation, where generally only tribal law enforcement officers can ticket or arrest an enrolled tribal member for drunken driving.
Rather than pursue Augare, the sheriff's office turned the matter over to tribal law enforcement. Tribal officers found Augare and his mother parked behind grain bins, their positions in the truck switched, and the officers drove them home without conducting any sobriety tests, prosecutors said.
After three weeks without any decision on whether to press charges, tribal prosecutors turned the case over to the U.S. attorney's office. Federal prosecutors charged Augare with DUI, reckless driving and obstructing a peace officer.
If convicted, Augare would face penalties of between nine and 15 months in prison and up to $1,800 in fines.
Augare declined to comment before or after the hearing. He answered only yes or no questions posed by Strong on whether he understood the charges and his rights.
After the hearing, McKay would not elaborate on his planned challenge to the federal court's jurisdiction to try the case.
Federal prosecutors are pursuing charges under the federal Assimilated Crimes Act, which allows them to apply state laws to offenses committed in Indian country that are not specifically addressed in federal law.
The three misdemeanor charges identified in the warrant application all fall under the Montana code.
Augare has been excused from legislative work while the charges are pending.