Ex-tribal chair accused of killings faces hearing

Feb 25, 2014, 8:46 AM

(AP) – For Cherie Lash Rhoades, an appeals hearing was her last chance to keep her small house on a tiny American Indian reservation in the high desert of northeastern California. During the eviction meeting at tribal headquarters, the former Cedarville Rancheria chairwoman is accused of killing four people, including three relatives.

Court documents allege she opened fire with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol at the building in Alturas, Calif., on Thursday, killing four and wounding two. She was arrested as she stabbed one of the wounded, whom she had chased into the parking lot with a kitchen knife, the documents say. She stopped when a man tackled her and the undersheriff of Modoc County handcuffed her, authorities said.

Rhoades has been held without bail at an undisclosed location since her arrest outside the headquarters. She was expected to be arraigned Tuesday in Modoc County Superior Court on a criminal complaint alleging four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder, with enhancements for using a firearm and causing great bodily harm. If convicted, she will face the death penalty because of the multiple victims, District Attorney Jordan Funk said.

She was to be represented in court by counsel qualified to handle a capital case, Funk said.

Cedarville Rancheria attorney Jack Duran said that just three weeks before the shooting, Rhoades had been suspended as tribal chairwoman pending a federal embezzlement investigation, and the meeting where the shooting broke out was being held to consider her eviction appeal. Rhoades’ son, Jack Stockton, also was ousted as vice chairman, and evicted from tribal housing, on the same grounds, Duran told The Associated Press. Stockton was not at the hearing when the shooting broke out. He had no listed telephone number at which to contact him for comment.

Killed in the shooting were Rhoades’ brother Rurik Davis, 50, who was serving as interim tribal chairman; Rhoades’ niece, Angel Penn, 19, a member of the tribal council; Rhoades’ nephew, Glenn Calonicco, 30, another council member; and tribal administrator Shelia Lynn Russo, 47.

Duran said Penn was holding her newborn baby on her lap when she was killed. The baby was not hurt and was being placed with a family member.

Two women who were wounded survived bullet wounds and were also cut with a knife.

The Cedarville Rancheria is a federally recognized tribe with 35 registered members. The Rancheria owns 26 acres in Cedarville, where most members reside in nine small, one-story houses built in the 1950s on lots on the outskirts of the town of 1,500.

Investigators have been looking into whether Rhoades took at least $50,000 in federal grant money meant for the Cedarville Rancheria, a person familiar with the tribe’s situation told The Associated Press last week on condition of anonymity.

The tribe had received an Indian housing grant for $50,399 in 2012 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a press release on the department’s website.

Duran said he could not confirm or deny that was the money in question, adding the amount could be less, “or a lot more.”

Though police have said they are still working on a motive, a nephew who lived with Rhoades, Jacob Penn, said she snapped under the pressure of her brother’s attempt to evict her.

Eviction from tribal housing is among the most serious punishments for American Indians. But Rhoades and Stockton were not being removed from tribal rolls and would continue to receive their share of $1.1 million in gambling revenue shared by casino tribes with the Rancheria, which does not have a casino, Duran said.

He acknowledged Rhoades’ reputation in Cedarville as a bully.

“Cherie was rough around the edges,” he said. “She had a rough life. I think her personality reflected that roughness.”

The tribe was busy cleaning up the headquarters building and was not sure if it would resume using it because of the slayings, Duran said.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Ex-tribal chair accused of killings faces hearing