GRANTS – Grants Municipal Court Judge Elise Larsen and representatives from the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission continue to look at options to solve substance abuse and habitual offender problems in Grants. Discussions between the two parties along with Crimestoppers representation started nearly a year ago following a letter sent by Larsen to the commission requesting its help. Talks continued on Friday in Larsen’s courtroom.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Larsen. “And it looks like we are finding ways that could help with habitual offenders. I’m excited to see how all this pans out in the future and how the residents will benefit from it.”
Beatings of several Navajos in the downtown area two years ago spurred talks with City of Grants officials and the Navajo Nation. Following the beatings, The Navajo Nation signed an agreement with the city and that protected Navajo human rights. The agreement made history as it was a first with a neighboring government to the Navajo Nation.
Discussions between the commission and Judge Larsen followed the agreement. The commission was in Grants to visit with the mayor on criminal matters and visited with Larsen in replying to her request. It appears, today, the two are making progress as they announced three opportunities on Friday.
According to Larsen, the majority of habitual offenders involving minor violations, such as public nuisance, are Navajo. Larsen told the Beacon she has also reached out to Acoma’s Judge Randy Collins and Cibola County’s Drug Court program for help.
On June 22, Larsen, Navajo Human Rights Commission Executive Director Leonard Gorman along with Navajo Nation Vice-President Rex Lee Jim and Judge Mary Barraza met in Window Rock to address health-related issues affecting citizens of the Navajo Nation such as alcohol abuse and the occurrence of border-town drunkenness (inebriation).
The June 22 meeting resulted in the group narrowing its options to three: engaging the Na’nizhoozhi Center in Gallup, enter an agreement with Grants’ Drug Court program, coordinate cases with the Navajo court system and its peacemaking program.
The Na’nizhoozhi Center is ready to accept residents from Cibola County, voluntarily or involuntarily. However, transportation for offenders to and from still needs to be worked out, said Larsen. The center could function as a short-term detox center (protective custody) or a long-term rehabilitation.
Larsen is going to start working on the opportunity to bring the drug court program into the Grants Municipal Court.
Collins said he has a similar program in Acoma named Wellness Court. “I find the approach very favorable,” said Collins. “At first I did not care for all the mushy stuff but I recognized the results. It works.”
Drug Court takes offenders through steps of success and ultimately a graduation. One must qualify for the program.
Finally, the last option will require an agreement between tribal court and Grants’ court. This option could include the Navajo peacemaking concept. According to “Peacemaking, a guide to peacemaking program of the Navajo Nation,” issued by Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation in 2004, talking about problems in a controlled way is a method of finding solutions. That idea led to the creation of the Diné peacemaking process. The voluntary process uses consensual agreements to help solve disputes.
“Judge Larsen engaged the commission through the project that intends to bring results that are fair and ensure equitable treatment to all citizens in the City of Grants,” said Gorman.
He noted on Friday that despite the alcohol problems some Navajos have, there are no liquor sales on the Navajo Nation. “One must leave the nation to acquire alcohol,” he said. “Despite the no sales on Navajo land the nation continues to address issues including criminal charges in Navajo Nation courts. The issues are also burdensome to the Navajo Nation even though liquor sales are not allowed on our land.
“Larsen brings an uncommon approach to the inebriate and public intoxication issue and that is a humane one. She is willing to address the Navajo Nation about crimes against inebriants who happen to be repeat offenders in her court,” said Gorman.