Dozens of law enforcement officers were on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation for about four hours this afternoon to help keep the peace while two factions of the same family tried to resolve an ownership dispute over Arrowhawk Smoke Shop.
Tom Peters (top photo), who said he's been managing the business recently for his family, said members of the Genesee County Sheriff's Office showed up this morning with a court order giving his niece, Corrine Thomas, control of the property.
The order was signed by Judge Robert C. Noonan, Peters said, but Peters said Noonan had no jurisdiction of the land of his nation.
This is reservation land and any court order from any judge is not valid out here," Peters said. "He has no right to be here. He doesn't have jurisdiction here."
There's a bit of a contradiction over how the dispute was resolved for the time being today. Peters said a higher court issued a stay of Noonan's order, but Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble said he was unaware of any such order. He said the Tonawanda chiefs brokered a deal to take control of the property until the issue can be resolved.
There were about 10 members of the Sheriff's Office on scene and more than two dozen troopers, including at least two K-9 units, which arrived to provide back up.
Asked if this was a typical response, Dibble said, "Is this typical? This isn't a typical situation. I've never seen a situation like this in my 38 years, so I wouldn't call it typical. I don't know that there is such a thing as a typical police response. We respond and do what we have to do for the safety of the people, and I think we were successful. Nobody got hurt."
Dibble and about 10 members of the Sheriff's Office delivered the court order from Noonan this morning about 7:30. According to Dibble, the order gave Thomas the right to inventory the property and its contents.
Peters said he was evicted from his apartment above the restaurant on the property.
The dispute is about three years old, Peters said, going back to the death of his brother. His brother left a will and Peters said there are provisions in the law that contradict tribal law. He said it gave away property that belongs to the Tonawanda nation.
It's unclear at what point Thomas became the estate's executor, but it was apparently because she has been named executor that she was there this morning.
Once the order was delivered, the Sheriff's personnel left the reservation, then early this afternoon there was a small fire at the location and Dibble said there were "threats made."
That brought deputies back to the scene and a host of troopers to provide back-up.
Dozens of residents of the nation mingled in the surrounding area, along with some customers of the nearby smoke shops and gas stations, and watched as a group of chiefs and others sat on chairs and talked outside the Arrowhawk.
At around 4 p.m., Thomas and her supporters -- Peters called them "warriors" and "mercenaries" hired by Thomas -- left.
Dibble and Peters may not agree how the settlement came about, but they both agree the matter is now in the hands of the chiefs. Peters said he believes federal courts will overturn Noonan's order. In the meantime, it's unclear if the Arrowhawk will reopen before the dispute is resolved.
Dibble said the chiefs will post guards on the property.