MADERA COUNTY – Department 9 was filled to overflowing this morning as five defendants in the Oct. 9 incident at the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino appeared before Judge Rigby for a review of their bail.
Tex McDonald, Vernon King, Tyrone Bishop and Miguel Ramos remain behind bars after turning themselves in to authorities after charges were filed in connection with the violent incident that ultimately closed down the casino.
John Olivera, Tribal Police Chief for Tex McDonald, made his first appearance in court since a warrant was issued for his arrest on Oct. 31. His attorney, Patrick Hanly, asked that his client’s arraignment be postponed, and that he be released on his own recognizance (OR).
Hanly told the judge that Olivera was not armed during the incident, and that he had consulted with the District Attorney before carrying out the plan to retrieve documents from the casino.
“My client met with the D.A. in early October and briefed him on the October 9th plan,” said Hanly. “This was not a spur of the moment plan. It was vetted by the D.A., County Counsel and the lawyers. Great pains were taken to vet this operation before it took place, and now the very conduct that was vetted is being charged by the D.A. My client was never in the basement, never carried a weapon, was not armed, and did not participate in any violent assault.”
Hanly said Olivera was “the perfect candidate for OR release,” citing his service in the military, over 20 years in law enforcement and service at the White House under two different presidents.
Judge Rigby did not agree, raising his bail from $800,000 to $1.25 million. Olivera was immediately handcuffed and remanded into custody. His attorney told the court that he intends “to test the court’s jurisdiction and authority over the case,” and the parties will be back before the judge on Dec. 19.
Attorneys for Tex McDonald and Vernon King, held on $2.45 million and $1.75 million bail respectively, both argued that their clients were acting on the advice of their lawyers as to how to conduct themselves legally when they entered the casino. They were not, he said, trying to take over the casino, rather were attempting to preserve the rights of tribal members and prevent the casino being shut down, by retrieving important paperwork so they could submit it to the federal government.
Jeff Reich, McDonald’s attorney, told the court that his client had met with the District Attorney and Madera County Counsel and got what he believed to be approval for their actions. Now, he believes, the D.A. is taking sides by arresting his client, and keeping him in custody on a very high bail so he can’t work with the other factions to sort out their leadership disputes.
District Attorney Michael Keitz says the assertions by McDonald and Olivera that they were advised to act as they did are “an incorrect characterization” of the situation, and that the facts will come out during the trial.
Even though the prosecutor was only requesting bail of $1.5 million, the judge ordered McDonald’s bail to remain as set last week at $2.45 million. Vernon King’s bail will also remain at the previously set amount of $1.75 million.
Tyrone Bishop’s attorney told the court that there is no evidence whatsoever that her client ever displayed a firearm during the incident, and that he only escorted Leonard Rosson, owner of security contractor STC, to the conference room from the valet area. Bishop turned himself in when the charges were filed.
“He is not part of the tribal leadership, he is not a member of the tribe, he is not tribal police; he was told to report for assistance,” said his lawyer. “But for his employment with the tribe, he wouldn’t be here. He was just following directions as part of his job.”
She also argued that Bishop has no criminal or violent history, has never been arrested and has very strong ties to the community, including serving as a volunteer football coach. Judge Rigby lowered Bishop’s bail from $1.4 million to $500,000, which he stated would provide adequate protection to the public.
Miguel Ramos, who was being held on $800,000 bail, also turned himself in when charges were filed. His attorney told the court that his 23-year-old client was also just an employee with the Chukchansi tribe, that he had served in Afghanistan and was honorably discharged from the military, has no criminal record, but does have an 8-month-old son. Though his lawyer argued that Ramos posed absolutely no threat to the community and no risk of flight, the judge set his bail at $500,000.
McDonald’s attorney then asked the court to order that his client receive medical treatment for an injury suffered during an altercation in the jail yesterday. A friend of McDonald reports that he told her he was attacked from behind in the dinner line, and suffered injury to his face and neck.
After the court proceedings, the supporters of the McDonald faction took to the sidewalk outside the courthouse to voice their strong objections to these defendants being in jail.
Jeanette Sample, member of the Big Sandy Rancheria who claims both Chukchansi and Mono heritage, says that if they’re going to arrest this faction, they should arrest them all. She and other supporters of McDonald continue to level charges against the Lewis/Ayala faction, claiming they are a “fake council,” have stolen nearly $50 million dollars from the casino, and should be behind bars.
With chants of “Where’s our money?,” the crowd lined the sidewalk, calling the D.A.’s office corrupt, along with the Madera Superior Court and the Sheriff’s Office.
McDonald, King, Bishop and Ramos will be back in court on Nov. 19 for a preliminary hearing.