Sheriff's Office: Local Indian tribe harboring child illegally


News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Dec. 16, 2013

ALLENDALE, S.C. (WRDW) -- You don't have to look hard to spot the 'No Trespassing' signs. They're nailed to trees and sign posts along a portion of Lawton Drive in Allendale County. The quiet neighborhood outside the Town of Allendale is actually an Indian reservation: The Yamassee Indian Reservation.

But just days ago, the Yamassee tribe was raided by cops. Deputies believe a two-year-old child is being harbored in the Indian community illegally.

"The child is there, out there somewhere, but they will not give the child up, which means they're violating this court order," says Lt. Steven Robinson with the Allendale County Sheriff's Office.

A Philadelphia County court order says the child should be returned to her mother immediately. The order says the child is believed to be with its putative father, Chief Sekhu Gentle of the Yamassee tribe.

Even though the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and Allendale County Sheriff's Office raided the reservation just days ago, Lt. Robinson says the child still hasn't been found.

"We understand that they openly admitted to having the child but will not relinquish the child to law enforcement," he says.

Robinson says it's believed the tribe is trying to take custody of the child through the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families.

"However, they're not recognized as an Indian tribe," says Robinson, who says he got the information from experts in Washington, D.C. "They have also not even applied for the recognition as an Indian tribe."

But the tribe's website says they do have a right to take children back, and it says "failure of a state court to recognize this right of intervention constitutes an act of genocide against the tribe as a minority group, and because the status of our constant warring and violation of treaties made with our people with the United States has never been resolved, the failure to acknowledge these Tribal Rights constitutes a War Crime."

However, Lt. Robinson maintains that the Yamassee in Allendale County are not a recognized tribe, thus not a sovereign power, and so they must still abide by state and federal laws. He says more charges and arrests could result. Lt. Robinson doesn't characterize the case as a kidnapping, however, he says the Sheriff's Office is still in talks with the Solicitor's Office to determine proper charges.

Robinson says he believes the child is safe.

The mother, Bilqiys Muhammad of Pennsylvania, has created a $1,000 reward for anyone who helps law enforcement capture Chief Gentle and return her child. A wanted poster she created says Sekhu was last seen driving a 1996 Ford F-150 that is green in color or a white Chevrolet pick-up truck. The poster says both vehicles have a Yamassee Indian Tribe stuck on the side of them.

In addition, two suspects have already been arrested by SLED agents for Custodial Intervention. Robinson says the two told agents, during the raid, that they would not assist in turning over the child to authorities.

News 12 tried to contact Chief Gentle but never heard back. An attorney for the tribe did not provide comment before airtime.


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