Four arrested for trespassing at casino site

Published 10:29 am Saturday, February 16, 2013

Four men were arrested for trespassing Friday at Wind Creek Wetumpka.

Four men were arrested for trespassing Friday at Wind Creek Wetumpka.

Four men attempting to hold a prayer service at the construction site of Wind Creek Wetumpka were arrested by tribal police Friday for trespassing one day after being denied access to the property by PCI management.

Mike Harjo, Wayland Gray and Michael Deo of Oklahoma, along with a man who identified himself as a Cherokee Indian named Maggot, were cuffed and taken to the Elmore County Jail after ignoring requests by the property manager for them to leave the area.

According to reports from The Wetumpka Herald, the property manager expressed his reluctance to have the men arrested, but allowed them to be taken into custody after they ignored warnings and continued to advance closer to the casino entrance. The men were reported to be screaming war cries, using noise makers and playing a primitive drum as they walked in circles around police vehicles.

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On Thursday, Harjo, Gray and Deo, along with two Wetumpka area pastors, were denied permission to pray on the construction site, which is referred to as Hickory Ground and heralded as sacred ground by the Muscogee Creek Indians of Oklahoma. The group once occupied the land, but were forcibly removed during the time of the Trail of Tears. Muscogee Creeks say the land is a sacred burial ground and are currently suing PCI, who now owns the property, for exhuming human remains and other artifacts and moving them to a graveyard area located elsewhere on the property.

The men, who call themselves “warriors of Hickory Ground,” notified PCI officials of their plans prior to attempting the prayer service Thursday. After being denied access to the grounds, the group attempted to hold the service in the parking lot, but Property Manager Cody Williamson and members of Poarch Creek Tribal Police asked both the would-be prayer group and the media to leave the property.

“You’re all gambling on a graveyard,” Harjo told customers who still walked toward the casino as the group returned to their vehicles.

According to David Goodwin, Political Editor for The Wetumpka Herald, as the Muscogee Creek “warriors” from Hickory Ground in Oklahoma returned to their vehicles, three of them let loose a war cry that echoed eerily through the casino’s parking deck. The group gathered again in the parking lot of San Marcos Mexican restaurant, where local pastors James Troglen and Jonathan Yarboro led a short prayer service.

They simply wanted to “pay our respects to our ancestors and sacred place,” Gray said.

The men said Poarch officials are denying them the right to visit the graves of family members.

“Why would you ask permission to come to your own cemetery?” Harjo asked.

Deo said he has direct ties to the ground beneath the construction zone, with Hepsey McIntosh — his “grandmas’s grandpa” — buried on the site.

“It possibly could’ve been him that they moved” when remains of 57 graves were moved from the site to make way for the construction. The movement of those burial sites is part of the basis for a federal lawsuit seeking to halt the construction.

Harjo called Wetumpka’s Hickory Ground a “religious site,” and noted the importance of ancestral burial grounds to the Muscogee Creeks.

“It’s like going to someone’s church and bulldozing it,” he said. “What if they did that at Arlington National Cemetery”

Yarboro and Troglen said they were there because the men invited them to join the group in prayer.

“Whenever someone asks for prayer, I tend to say yes,” Yarboro said.

He said the casino has always been “part of Wetumpka” since he’s served the congregation at First Presbyterian, and knows they are “fantastic neighbors.”
His church does not take a position on the issue, but he “appreciates what they’re saying about wanting to honor their ancestors.”

PCI Tribal Liaison Sharon Delmar said the reasoning behind denying access to the property was two fold.

“This morning, ten individuals approached the tribe’s casino in Wetumpka where they were met by the property’s general manager and some of his team members,” Delmar said Thursday in a press release. “The individuals asked for access to the construction site, which was denied. As previously stated, these individuals support a lawsuit that has been filed against the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Considering that they are party to that litigation and noting that the property they wished to access is an active construction site, their access was denied.”

Delmar said, although the men were denied access, Thursday’s situation remained civil at all times.

“At no time was there any threat of violence or any physical altercation. Contrary to reports published by the aforementioned individuals demanding access to Poarch property, at no time did any PCI gaming employees nor any Poarch Tribal members use, or display, any firearms. Our tribe remains confident that the judicial process will find these individuals claims without merit.”

In a release sent Friday, Delmar said the men were arrested only after ignoring instructions to leave and following threatening statements made to tribal police.

“Today four individuals were arrested at Creek Casino Wetumpka. The individuals were stopped by property management and
advised to leave,” Delmar said. “These individuals refused to leave, made threatening comments and were repeatedly warned that they were trespassing and facing imminent arrest. These individuals continued to challenge tribal police and were arrested.”

Delmar added the men had been warned not to return to the site after Thursday’s incident.

“The men had been warned yesterday that no one other than professionals involved with the project would be allowed at the construction site,” she said. “At least one of the men repeatedly made threats to property management and security during these encounters. While some may see these individuals simply as celebrity seekers, Poarch Band of Creek Indians and PCI Gaming must take these threats seriously, especially in light of the security climate in America today.”