Former Rancheria chairwoman faces charges in Modoc County slayings

smagagnini@sacbee.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Three of the four Cedarville Rancheria members gunned down Thursday were relatives of the suspect, Cherie Lash Rhoades, authorities said Friday. The victims – including Rhoades’ brother, a nephew and a niece who leaves behind a newborn – were attending a meeting in Alturas to consider the eviction of Rhoades and her son from the tribe.

Experts say the shooting in Modoc County is the latest, and most chilling, example of tribal violence over power struggles and disenrollments by California’s federally recognized American Indian tribes, which as sovereign nations have the right to decide who’s in and who’s out – and who gets a share of casino revenue that can exceed $1 million a year per member.

Rick Cuevas, who was disenrolled from the Pechanga nation in Riverside eight years ago with more than 300 others, said, “it’s all about money and power.”

Several thousand California Indians have been disenrolled from more than a dozen tribes in the last decade, said Cuevas, whose blog at www.originalpechanga.com follows disenrollments statewide. “About $700 million has been stolen from our own tribes through disenrollment, including $474 million at Pechanga alone,” he said. Pechanga leaders have said the disenrollments are based on tribal genealogy and have nothing to do with politics or gambling profits.

The Cedarville Rancheria, a band of Paiute Indians, has 35 members, most of them living on 26 acres in the eastern Modoc County town of Cedarville, population 2,000, according to the tribe’s website. Although the tribe does not have a casino, it does get up to $1.1 million a year from the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund financed by tribes that have paid nearly half a billion dollars in casino revenue to the state, according to the California Gambling Control Commission. The Cedarville Rancheria has received more than $13 million since the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund was started about a decade ago, the commission reported last month.

But Jean Biladeaux, a resident of Cedarville, said Rhoades and her 24-year-old son’s dispute with the tribe had nothing to do with disenrollments. She said she heard federal investigators were probing some of Rhoades’ financial dealings.

Alturas Police Chief Ken Barnes could not confirm a federal investigation was underway, spokeswoman Cary Baker said. The tribe’s 2012 chairwoman had never been arrested by Alturas police, Baker said, adding “I know it was a tribal hearing for the eviction of Rhoades, her son and daughter-in-law, and that all four people killed were affiliated with the tribal council.”

“I think the tribe was trying to do the right thing,” Biladeaux said. “Something bad was going to happen sooner or later. It’s a horrid thing to happen to your family, but most people aren’t going to talk because people feel there will be repercussions.”

Police said Rhoades, 44, pulled a gun at the tribe’s headquarters as her eviction was being discussed. After running out of bullets, she grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed a woman, police said.

Rhoades’ brother, tribe chairman Rurik Davis, 50; a niece, Angel Penn, 19; a nephew, Glenn Calonicco, 30; and Shelia Lynn Russo, 47, were killed. Two of Davis’ daughters were wounded.

Rhoades was booked into custody on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, child endangerment and brandishing a weapon.

Biladeaux said Rhoades’ brother, also known as “Two Bears,” was “an incredibly interesting man” who starred as Captain Jack in a play about the Modoc Indian revolt. Citizens from Modoc to Lakeview, Ore., are raising money to help the surviving relatives, including Penn’s 5-day-old son.

No one returned several messages left at the tribal office.

The community of Alturas held a candlelight vigil for the four victims Friday night, Deputy Mayor Bobby Ray said.

“She (Rhoades) was going to be evicted from Rancheria property and was bitter over the situation,” Ray said. “She chose a tragic way to deal with it. She has a reputation for being kind of different ... and seems to have a volatile nature. Her niece who was killed had a 5-day-old baby – it’s not something we’re going to get over anytime soon.”

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. The Associated Press and Bee researcher Pete Basofin contributed to this report.

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