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http://www.northjersey.com/story/news/b … 517444001/
Ramapough tepee case transferred to county
Tom Nobile, Staff Writer, @TomNobile Published 6:47 p.m. ET July 27, 2017 | Updated 12:32 p.m. ET July 28, 2017
MAHWAH — Bergen County's presiding municipal judge will hear allegations that the Ramapough Lenape Nation built tepees without permission, after Mahwah's municipal court judge agreed to recuse himself from the case Thursday.
Judge Dennis Harraka stepped down because he was the local prosecutor when the township first issued zoning violations against the tribe. The Ramapoughs' legal counsel claimed he had a conflict of interest in a motion filed last week.
The case is now in the hands of Superior Court Judge Roy F. McGeady, who will determine if the tribe violated Mahwah's zoning regulations by failing to obtain permits to use its property on Halifax Road as a campground and place of public assembly, and to build tepees and other structures.
A court date has not been determined, according to attorney Thomas Williams, who is representing the tribe on the zoning matter.
Ramapough leaders have refused to remove the tepees despite receiving what they claim are dozens of summonses amounting to more than $40,000 in fines.
The tribe has also been at odds with its neighbors at the Polo Club, an affluent community whose residents have for months filed noise and domestic disturbance complaints with police. Tensions reached a head in May with reports of vandalism in the neighborhood.
Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry and another Ramapough leader appeared in municipal court Thursday to answer charges of criminal mischief on Polo Club property.
Steven D. Smith, whose tribal name is Owl, is accused of tampering with a neighborhood surveillance camera by trying to turn the lens to a different view. Police allege he was driven to the scene by Perry.
Harraka granted an adjournment of the case Thursday to give the tribe's criminal lawyer, Mitchell Ignatoff, time to review surveillance footage at the scene. A new court date was scheduled for Aug. 10.
Ramapoughs are dealt blow in zoning dispute with Mahwah
Tom Nobile, Staff Writer, @TomNobile Published 5:43 p.m. ET Sept. 26, 2017 | Updated 7:49 p.m. ET Sept. 26, 2017
http://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2 … 704486001/
HACKENSACK — A state Superior Court judge on Tuesday rejected the Ramapough Lenape Nation’s claim to sovereign and religious immunity from zoning laws in Mahwah, where the tribe is accused of building a tepee colony without local permission.
Judge Roy F. McGeady denied a motion on Tuesday that would have dismissed zoning summonses levied against the tribe by the township, instead calling for a trial to determine whether the tepees violate Mahwah’s zoning code.
Attorneys for the Ramapoughs had derided the summonses as discriminatory and had said they constituted harassment, claiming they were filed against a tribe that considers itself a sovereign nation. The summonses have also interfered with the tribe’s use of its Halifax Road property for prayer and worship, attorneys argued.
In his ruling on Tuesday, McGeady said the tribe has the same obligation to seek construction permits for houses of worship as do churches and synagogues. The judge also dismissed the tribe’s argument declaring its sovereign immunity against zoning laws, citing case law from the 1890s involving the Cherokee Nation.
McGeady, however, did refer to a joint resolution from the state Legislature that declares the Ramapoughs an official tribe.
“There’s strong evidence that the state of New Jersey recognizes the Ramapough Mountain Indians as an Indian tribe," McGeady said. “What effect that recognition should have is in question."
A trial will begin on Oct. 3, McGeady said.
Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry said he was “disappointed" to see the dispute reach trial. Exiting the county courthouse in Hackensack on Tuesday, Perry gestured to an engraving over the building’s entrance that reads “From early Indian tribes – Through Dutch and English settlers – History was made here."
For nearly a year, Mahwah officials have issued violations to the tribe for allegedly using its 14-acre property as a place of public assembly and campground, complete with tepees, tents, a canvas cabin and a yurt, all without obtaining permits.
The Ramapough Lenape Nation held a four-day prayer in support of their religious right to have tepees at Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp in Mahwah. The town recently filed a lawsuit ordering the removal of the tepees. Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com
The Ramapoughs began building a colony of tepees last fall in protest of an oil pipeline expected to run through North Jersey, including Mahwah, and also to show solidarity with Native Americans in North Dakota challenging a similar project through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Township officials first became aware of the tepees in November, after complaints from residents of the Polo Club, an affluent neighborhood adjacent to the tribe's property whose residents have filed multiple noise and domestic disturbance complaints against the tribe.
Ramapough attorneys have argued that the tribe had already received a zoning permit to use its property for prayer and cultural assembly in 2012, when the tribe sought to build a longhouse.
Legal counsel for the township, however, had said the tribe never obtained a building permit or site plan approval for that project, and exceeded the permit’s scope when it erected tents and tepees.
McGeady acknowledged the 2012 permit on Tuesday.
“Clearly Mahwah accepts that there was going to be religious use on the property," he said.
The township’s summonses state that the tribe failed to obtain zoning permits for "structures and uses of land" on its property and moved soil without permission.
Ramapough attorneys dispute the township’s definition of “structures," arguing that tepees do not qualify.
The tribe currently faces 43 summonses in total, each carrying a maximum fine of $1,250, McGeady said.