The hiring is part of a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) initiative to improve public safety and reduce violent crime rates on reservations throughout the country.
Michael Large was one of more than 100 applicants for the assistant U.S. attorney’s position and was hired after a rigorous five-month search that involved a series of interviews, background checks and other pre-employment screenings.
Large previously worked for a local business and commercial law firm and, in addition to tribal prosecutions, will handle liaison duties between the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office and tribal communities, including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
“He’s very diverse in practice,” said Dan Bogden, the state’s top U.S. attorney.
Litigation experience and a keen interest in Indian issues made the University of Oregon law school graduate a promising candidate for the position, Bogden added.
Large said growing up in a small town with a substantial Indian community and taking classes in Indian law motivated him to seek the position.
“It’s always been an interest of mine,” he said.
Large will work alongside Sue Fahami, a veteran tribal prosecutor and now supervising attorney for the Reno division, in handling federal criminal cases arising in Indian Country.
The Major Crimes Act establishes federal jurisdiction over felony crimes that occur in Indian Country where either the offender or victim is an Indian and in all cases where the offender is a non-Indian and the victim is an Indian.
Murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, violent assaults, child abuse or neglect, arson, burglary and robbery are examples of such crimes.
Tribal jurisdiction is limited to misdemeanor cases and states retain jurisdiction for both felonies and misdemeanors where both the offender and victim are non-Indians.
The DOJ, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, has in the last year made curtailing crime in Indian Country a high priority. More than $400 million in stimulus funds and DOJ allocations have, among other things, been directed to expand tribal law enforcement personnel, equip officers and fund domestic violence prevention programs.
Moreover, about $6 million has been budgeted for the hiring of at least 35 additional assistant U.S. attorneys and 12 additional FBI victim specialists to work on Indian Country cases in districts across the country. Grant funding for Indian Country matters has increased 54 percent in the last year.
“(The Obama) administration is committed,” Bogden said, “and (prosecuting Indian Country crime) has always been a commitment of this office.”
Federal statistics reveal the need for this commitment. Homicides and domestic violence offenses in Indian Country are higher than the national rate and American Indians are two times as likely to be victims of violent crime as any other demographic.
Recent DOJ directives have resulted in the publication of both an informational resource guide and operational plan for dealing with Indian Country crime in Nevada.
As part of a larger, continued focus on crime in Indian Country, Bogden and Fahami make annual visits to all 26 tribal communities in Nevada to meet with tribal leaders and police chiefs and discuss relevant issues and concerns. Large will participate in these visits beginning next year.
“It just makes sense for us to do this,” Fahami said. “It’s important to get out as someone who prosecutes these cases.”
Annual conferences with tribal leaders round out the many proactive initiatives taken to develop relationships and trust between the attorney’s office and tribal communities, something Bogden said is important given historical animosities between American Indians and federal administrators.
“We have an excellent relationship with (the U.S. attorney’s office),” said Dennis Shinn, Pyramid Lake tribal police chief.
Larry Cooley, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC) tribal police chief, said he had seen many positive changes in the relationship between the U.S. attorney’s office and RSIC during the last two years.
“Things have improved dramatically from years past,” he said.
Better communication, efforts to train tribal police and new directives at both the local and national levels highlighting disparities in Indian Country are just a few of the improved cooperative measures, Cooley said.
In addition, Cooley credits the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 — which increases penalties tribal courts can impose, for example, on drug crimes and serious assaults not covered by the Major Crimes Act and federal jurisdiction — with granting tribal courts a greater role in criminal prosecutions involving Indian offenders.
Cooley expects to build upon these recent successes.
“I’m looking forward to working with the new hire,” he said.
Large said he has a tremendous amount of work ahead of him as he gets up to speed on local Indian Country crime matters but that he is looking forward to the challenge.
“I like community-based outreach,” he said.